Positive selection for loss of RpoS function in Escherichia coli
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Though RpoS, an alternative sigma factor, is required for survival and adaptation of Escherichia coli under stress conditions, many strains have acquired independent mutations in the rpoS gene. The reasons for this apparent selective loss and the nature of the selective agent are not well understood. In this study, we found that some wild type strains grow poorly in succinate minimal media compared with isogenic strains carrying defined RpoS null mutations. Using an rpoS+ strain harboring an operon lacZ fusion to the highly-RpoS dependent osmY promoter as an indicator strain, we tested if this differential growth characteristic could be used to selectively isolate mutants that have lost RpoS function. All isolated (Suc+) mutants exhibited attenuated beta-galactosidase expression on indicator media suggesting a loss in either RpoS or osmY promoter function. Because all Suc+ mutants were also defective in catalase activity, an OsmY-independent, RpoS-regulated function, it was likely that RpoS activity was affected. To confirm this, we sequenced PCR-amplified products containing the rpoS gene from 20 independent mutants using chromosomal DNA as a template. Sequencing and alignment analyses confirmed that all isolated mutants possessed mutated alleles of the rpoS gene. Types of mutations detected included single or multiple base deletions, insertions, and transversions. No transition mutations were identified. All identified point mutations could, under selection for restoration of beta-galactosidase, revert to rpoS+. Revertible mutation of the rpoS gene can thus function as a genetic switch that controls expression of the regulon at the population level. These results may also help to explain why independent laboratory strains have acquired mutations in this important regulatory gene.
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