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Summary

FtsN is the last known essential protein component to be recruited to the Escherichia coli divisome, and has several special properties. Here we report the isolation of suppressor mutants of ftsA that allow viability in the absence of ftsN. Cells producing the FtsA suppressors exhibited a mild cell division deficiency in the absence of FtsN, and no obvious phenotype in its presence. Remarkably, these altered FtsA proteins also could partially suppress a deletion of ftsK or zipA, were less toxic than wild-type FtsA when in excess, and conferred resistance to excess MinC, indicating that they share some properties with the previously isolated FtsA* suppressor mutant, and bypass the need for ftsN by increasing the integrity of the Z ring. TolA, which normally requires FtsN for its recruitment to the divisome, localized proficiently in the suppressed ftsN null strain, strongly suggesting that FtsN does not recruit the Tol–Pal complex directly. Therefore, despite its classification as a core divisome component, FtsN has no unique essential function but instead promotes overall Z ring integrity. The results strongly suggest that FtsA is conformationally flexible, and this flexibility is a key modulator of divisome function at all stages.