Many Gram-negative bacteria use quorum sensing (QS) to regulate expression of multiple genes, by utilizing small diffusible signalling molecules called N-acyl homoserine lactones (acyl-HSLs). Serratia sp. ATCC 39006 produces the red pigment prodigiosin under QS control, in response to the short-chain signal C4-HSL. In this study, we have demonstrated that an acyl-HSL-deficient mutant can be used as a visual biosensor to detect short-chain acyl-HSLs. We have quantified the acyl-HSL sensitivity spectrum of the Serratia 39006 prodigiosin QS system, and have demonstrated a strong specificity for the natural ligand C4-HSL. Mutations in the pigX and pigZ genes in Serratia 39006 resulted in an overproduction of prodigiosin, caused by increased transcription of the prodigiosin biosynthetic operon. A new biosensor (SP19) with enhanced prodigiosin production was created by addition of pigX and pigZ mutations to the existing biosensor. We have demonstrated that SP19 is superior to biosensor strains CV026 and Agrobacterium NTL4 (pZLR4) for the detection of short-chain acyl-HSLs present in spent culture supernatants. Researchers working with QS bacteria that produce short-chain acyl-HSLs can use strain SP19 as a simple visual acyl-HSL biosensor with no requirement for expensive detection equipment.
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