The filamentous bacterium
Streptomyces coelicolordifferentiates by forming specialized, spore-bearing aerial hyphae that grow into the air. Using microarrays, we identified genes that are down-regulated in a mutant unable to erect aerial hyphae. Through this route, we identified a previously unknown layer of aerial mycelium surface proteins (the “chaplins”). The chaplins share a hydrophobic domain of ∼40 residues (the “chaplin domain”), and all have a secretion signal. The five short chaplins (ChpD,E,F,G,H) have one chaplin domain, whereas the three long chaplins (ChpA,B,C) have two chaplin domains and a C-terminal “sorting signal” that targets them for covalent attachment to the cell wall by sortase enzyme. Expression of the two chaplin genes examined ( chpE, chpH) depended on aerial hyphae formation but not sporulation, and egfpfusions showed their expression localized to aerial structures. Mass spectrometry of cell wall extracts confirmed that the short chaplins localized to the cell surface. Deletion of chaplin genes caused severe delays in aerial hyphae formation, a phenotype rescued by exogenous application of chaplin proteins. These observations implicate the chaplins in aerial mycelium formation, and suggest that coating of the envelope by the chaplins is required for aerial hyphae to grow out of the aqueous environment of the substrate mycelium into the air.