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Summary

The phototrophic consortium ‘Chlorochromatium aggregatum’ is a highly structured association of green sulfur bacterial epibionts surrounding a central, motile bacterium and is the most specific symbiosis currently known between two phylogenetically distinct bacterial species. Genes and gene products potentially involved in the symbiotic interaction were identified on the genomic, transcriptomic and proteomic level. As compared with the 11 available genomes of free-living relatives, only 186 open reading frames were found to be unique to the epibiont genome. 2-D differential gel electrophoresis (2-D DIGE) of the soluble proteomes recovered 1612 protein spots of which 54 were detected exclusively in consortia but not in pure epibiont cultures. Using mass spectrometry analyses, the 13 most intense of the 54 spots could be attributed to the epibiont. Analyses of the membrane proteins of consortia, of consortia treated with cross-linkers and of pure cultures indicated that a branched chain amino acid ABC-transporter binding protein is only expressed in the symbiotic state of the epibiont. Furthermore, analyses of chlorosomes revealed that an uncharacterized 11 kDa epibiont protein is only expressed during symbiosis. This protein may be involved in the intracellular sorting of chlorosomes. Application of a novel prokaryotic cDNA suppression subtractive hybridization technique led to identification of 14 differentially regulated genes, and comparison of the transcriptomes of symbiotic and free-living epibionts indicated that 328 genes were differentially transcribed. The three approaches were mostly complementary and thereby yielded a first inventory of 352 genes that are likely to be involved in the bacterial interaction in ‘C. aggregatum’. Notably, most of the regulated genes encoded components of central metabolic pathways whereas only very few (7.5%) of the unique ‘symbiosis genes’ turned out to be regulated under the experimental conditions tested. This pronounced regulation of central metabolic pathways may serve to fine-tune the symbiotic interaction in ‘C. aggregatum’ in response to environmental conditions.