Bergman JM, Wrande M, Hughes D
PLoS ONE 9 (10) e109255 [2014-10-02; online 2014-10-02]
When bacterial colonies age most cells enter a stationary phase, but sub-populations of mutant bacteria can continue to grow and accumulate. These sub-populations include bacteria with mutations in rpoB (RNA polymerase β-subunit) or rpoS (RNA polymerase stress-response sigma factor). Here we have identified acetate as a nutrient present in the aging colonies that is utilized by these mutant subpopulations to support their continued growth. Proteome analysis of aging colonies showed that several proteins involved in acetate conversion and utilization were upregulated during aging. Acetate is known to be excreted during the exponential growth phase but can be imported later during the transition to stationary phase and converted to acetyl-CoA. Acetyl-CoA is used in multiple processes, including feeding into the TCA cycle, generating ATP via the glyoxylate shunt, as a source of acetyl groups for protein modification, and to support fatty acid biosynthesis. We showed that deletion of acs (encodes acetyl-CoA synthetase; converts acetate into acetyl-CoA) significantly reduced the accumulation of rpoB and rpoS mutant subpopulations on aging colonies. Measurement of radioactive acetate uptake showed that the rate of conversion decreased in aging wild-type colonies, was maintained at a constant level in the rpoB mutant, and significantly increased in the aging rpoS mutant. Finally, we showed that the growth of subpopulations on aging colonies was greatly enhanced if the aging colony itself was unable to utilize acetate, leaving more acetate available for mutant subpopulations to use. Accordingly, the data show that the accumulation of subpopulations of rpoB and rpoS mutants on aging colonies is supported by the availability in the aging colony of acetate, and by the ability of the subpopulation cells to convert the acetate to acetyl-CoA.