Bacterial phototaxis was first recognized over a century ago, but the method by which such small cells can sense the direction of illumination has remained puzzling. The unicellular cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 moves with Type IV pili and measures light intensity and color with a range of photoreceptors. Here, we show that individual Synechocystis cells do not respond to a spatiotemporal gradient in light intensity, but rather they directly and accurately sense the position of a light source. We show that directional light sensing is possible because Synechocystis cells act as spherical microlenses, allowing the cell to see a light source and move towards it. A high-resolution image of the light source is focused on the edge of the cell opposite to the source, triggering movement away from the focused spot. Spherical cyanobacteria are probably the world’s smallest and oldest example of a camera eye.
Types 1 and P pili are prototypical bacterial cell-surface appendages playing essential roles in mediating adhesion of bacteria to the urinary tract. These pili, assembled by the chaperone-usher pathway, are polymers of pilus subunits assembling into two parts: a thin, short tip fibrillum at the top, mounted on a long pilus rod. The rod adopts a helical quaternary structure and is thought to play essential roles: its formation may drive pilus extrusion by preventing backsliding of the nascent growing pilus within the secretion pore; the rod also has striking spring-like properties, being able to uncoil and recoil depending on the intensity of shear forces generated by urine flow. Here, we present an atomic model of the P pilus generated from a 3.8 Å resolution cryo-electron microscopy reconstruction. This structure provides the molecular basis for the rod’s remarkable mechanical properties and illuminates its role in pilus secretion.
The bacterium Geobacter sulfurreducens requires the expression of conductive protein filaments or pili to respire extracellular electron acceptors such as iron oxides and uranium and to wire electroactive biofilms, but the contribution of the protein fiber to charge transport has remained elusive. Here we demonstrate efficient long-range charge transport along individual pili purified free of metal and redox organic cofactors at rates high enough to satisfy the respiratory rates of the cell. Carrier characteristics were within the orders reported for organic semiconductors (mobility) and inorganic nanowires (concentration), and resistivity was within the lower ranges reported for moderately doped silicon nanowires. However, the pilus conductance and the carrier mobility decreased when one of the tyrosines of the predicted axial multistep hopping path was replaced with an alanine. Furthermore, low temperature scanning tunneling microscopy demonstrated the thermal dependence of the differential conductance at the low voltages that operate in biological systems. The results thus provide evidence for thermally activated multistep hopping as the mechanism that allows Geobacter pili to function as protein nanowires between the cell and extracellular electron acceptors.
Each bacterial species has a characteristic shape, but the benefits of specific morphologies remain largely unknown. To understand potential functions for cell shape, we focused on the curved bacterium Caulobacter crescentus. Paradoxically, C. crescentus curvature is robustly maintained in the wild but straight mutants have no known disadvantage in standard laboratory conditions. Here we demonstrate that cell curvature enhances C. crescentus surface colonization in flow. Imaging the formation of microcolonies at high spatial and temporal resolution indicates that flow causes curved cells to orient such that they arc over the surface, thereby decreasing the distance between the surface and polar adhesive pili, and orienting pili to face the surface. C. crescentus thus repurposes pilus retraction, typically used for surface motility, for surface attachment. The benefit provided by curvature is eliminated at high flow intensity, raising the possibility that diversity in curvature adapts related species for life in different flow environments.
Type IV pili are surface organelles essential for pathogenicity of many Gram-negative bacteria. In Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the major subunit of type IV pili, PilE, is a target of its general O-linked glycosylation system. This system modifies a diverse set of periplasmic and extracellular gonococcal proteins with a variable set of glycans. Here we show that expression of a particular hexa-histidine-tagged PilE was associated with growth arrest. By studying intra- and extragenic suppressors, we found that this phenotype was dependent on pilus assembly and retraction. Based on these results, we developed a sensitive tool to identify factors with subtle effects on pilus dynamics. Using this approach, we found that glycan chain length has differential effects on the growth arrest that appears to be mediated at the level of pilin subunit-subunit interactions and bidirectional remodelling of pilin between its membrane-associated and assembled states. Gonococcal pilin glycosylation thus plays both an intracellular role in pilus dynamics and potential extracellular roles mediated through type IV pili. In addition to demonstrating the effect of glycosylation on pilus dynamics, the study provides a new way of identifying factors with less dramatic effects on processes involved in type IV pilus biogenesis.
A fluorescence-based live-cell adhesion assay was used to examine biofilm formation by 20 different haloarchaea, including species of Halobacterium, Haloferax and Halorubrum, as well as novel natural isolates from an Antarctic salt lake. Thirteen of the 20 tested strains significantly adhered (P-value < 0.05) to a plastic surface. Examination of adherent cell layers on glass surfaces by differential interference contrast, fluorescence and confocal microscopy showed two types of biofilm structures. Carpet-like, multi-layered biofilms containing micro- and macrocolonies (up to 50 μm in height) were formed by strains of Halobacterium salinarum and the Antarctic isolate t-ADL strain DL24. The second type of biofilm, characterized by large aggregates of cells adhering to surfaces, was formed by Haloferax volcanii DSM 3757(T) and Halorubrum lacusprofundi DL28. Staining of the biofilms formed by the strongly adhesive haloarchaeal strains revealed the presence of extracellular polymers, such as eDNA and glycoconjugates, substances previously shown to stabilize bacterial biofilms. For Hbt. salinarum DSM 3754(T) and Hfx. volcanii DSM 3757(T) , cells adhered within 1 day of culture and remained viable for at least 2 months in mature biofilms. Adherent cells of Hbt. salinarum DSM 3754(T) showed several types of cellular appendages that could be involved in the initial attachment. Our results show that biofilm formation occurs in a surprisingly wide variety of haloarchaeal species.
Bacterial biofilms can generate micro-heterogeneity in terms of surface structures. However, little is known about the associated changes in the physics of cell-cell interaction and its impact on the architecture of biofilms. Here, we used the type IV pilus of Neisseria gonorrhoeae to test whether variation of surface structures induces cell-sorting. We show that the rupture forces between pili are fine-tuned by post-translational modification. Bacterial sorting was dependent on pilus post-translational modification and pilus density. Active force generation was necessary for defined morphologies of mixed microcolonies. The observed morphotypes were in remarkable agreement with the differential strength of adhesion hypothesis proposing that a tug-of-war among surface structures of different cells governs cell sorting. We conclude that in early biofilms the density and rupture force of bacterial surface structures can trigger cell sorting based on similar physical principles as in developing embryos.
Type IV pilus (T4P) systems are complex molecular machines that polymerize major pilin proteins into thin filaments displayed on bacterial surfaces. Pilus functions require rapid extension and depolymerization of the pilus, powered by the assembly and retraction ATPases, respectively. A set of low abundance minor pilins influences pilus dynamics by unknown mechanisms. The Vibrio cholerae toxin-coregulated pilus (TCP) is among the simplest of the T4P systems, having a single minor pilin TcpB and lacking a retraction ATPase. Here we show that TcpB, like its homolog CofB, initiates pilus assembly. TcpB co-localizes with the pili but at extremely low levels, equivalent to one subunit per pilus. We used a micropillars assay to demonstrate that TCP are retractile despite the absence of a retraction ATPase, and that retraction relies on TcpB, as a V. cholerae tcpB Glu5Val mutant is fully piliated but does not induce micropillars movements. This mutant is impaired in TCP-mediated autoagglutination and TcpF secretion, consistent with retraction being required for these functions. We propose that TcpB initiates pilus retraction by incorporating into the growing pilus in a Glu5-dependent manner, which stalls assembly and triggers processive disassembly. These results provide a framework for understanding filament dynamics in more complex T4P systems and the closely related Type II secretion system.
Bacterial biofilms account for a significant number of hospital-acquired infections and complicate treatment options, because bacteria within biofilms are generally more tolerant to antibiotic treatment. This resilience is attributed to transient bacterial subpopulations that arise in response to variations in the microenvironment surrounding the biofilm. Here, we probed the spatial proteome of surface-associated single-species biofilms formed by uropathogenic Escherichia coli (UPEC), the major causative agent of community-acquired and catheter-associated urinary tract infections. We used matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) time-of-flight (TOF) imaging mass spectrometry (IMS) to analyze the spatial proteome of intact biofilms in situ. MALDI-TOF IMS revealed protein species exhibiting distinct localizations within surface-associated UPEC biofilms, including two adhesive fibers critical for UPEC biofilm formation and virulence: type 1 pili (Fim) localized exclusively to the air-exposed region, while curli amyloid fibers localized to the air-liquid interface. Comparison of cells grown aerobically, fermentatively, or utilizing an alternative terminal electron acceptor showed that the phase-variable fim promoter switched to the “OFF” orientation under oxygen-deplete conditions, leading to marked reduction of type 1 pili on the bacterial cell surface. Conversely, S pili whose expression is inversely related to fim expression were up-regulated under anoxic conditions. Tethering the fim promoter in the “ON” orientation in anaerobically grown cells only restored type 1 pili production in the presence of an alternative terminal electron acceptor beyond oxygen. Together these data support the presence of at least two regulatory mechanisms controlling fim expression in response to oxygen availability and may contribute to the stratification of extracellular matrix components within the biofilm. MALDI IMS facilitated the discovery of these mechanisms, and we have demonstrated that this technology can be used to interrogate subpopulations within bacterial biofilms.
Type IVa pili are filamentous cell surface structures observed in many bacteria. They pull cells forward by extending, adhering to surfaces, and then retracting. We used cryo-electron tomography of intact Myxococcus xanthus cells to visualize type IVa pili and the protein machine that assembles and retracts them (the type IVa pilus machine, or T4PM) in situ, in both the piliated and nonpiliated states, at a resolution of 3 to 4 nanometers. We found that T4PM comprises an outer membrane pore, four interconnected ring structures in the periplasm and cytoplasm, a cytoplasmic disc and dome, and a periplasmic stem. By systematically imaging mutants lacking defined T4PM proteins or with individual proteins fused to tags, we mapped the locations of all 10 T4PM core components and the minor pilins, thereby providing insights into pilus assembly, structure, and function.