Variability of the Quorum Sensing System in Natural Isolates of Bacillus sp.

Ines Mandic-Mulec*, Barbara Kraigher, Ursa Cepon and Ivan Mahne

University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical Faculty, Department Food Science and Technology, Chair of Microbiology, Večna pot 111, SI-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia

Article history:

Received: October 1, 2002
Accepted: January 24, 2003

Key words:

Bacillus, genetic competence, quorum sensing, polymorphism, sexual isolation


Bacteria communicate with one another by (emitting and/or reacting) to chemical signals. These communications, also known as quorum sensing, enable cells to control gene expression in response to cell density at the intra- and inter-species level. While bacteria use common signaling themes, variations in the design of the extracellular signals, the signal detection apparatus, and the biochemical mechanisms of signal relay have allowed quorum sensing systems to be adapted to diverse uses. The quorum sensing systems that govern natural genetic competence in Bacillus subtilis involve the ComX pheromones and the ComP-ComA, two-component regulator. ComX is synthesized as an inactive precursor and is then cleaved and modified by ComQ before export to the extra-cellular environment. The comQXP' loci of a set of natural Bacillus isolates have been sequenced and a striking polymorphism that correlates with specific patterns of activation of the quorum sensing response was shown. The ComX molecules representing different pherotypes were purified and characterized by mass spectroscopy. The analyses revealed that ComX variants also differ at the level of posttranslational modification of a conserved tryptophane residue, which was found to be an isoprenoid. The striking variability found in competence quorum sensing systems might be important for the survival of these bacteria in nature to escape the inappropriate  induction of competence by closely related strains, playing the role of a sexual isolation mechanism. 

*Corresponding author:           This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
                                               ++386 1 42 33 388
                                               ++386 1 25 73 390