Researchers discover ‘dormant’ magnetosome genes in non-magnetic bacteria

Researchers discover 'dormant' magnetosome genes in non-magnetic bacteria

Phylogeny, chromosome, and MGC’s organization of G2-11. a The maximum likelihood phylogenetic tree based on ribosomal proteins demonstrates the position of G2-11 (highlighted in red) within family Acetobacteraceae (highlighted in the yellow box). the Azospirillaceae family was used as an outgroup based on the latest Alphaproteobacteria phylogeny. Branch length represents the number of base substitutions per site. Values ​​at nodes indicate branch support calculated from 500 replicates using non-parametric bootstrap analysis. Bootstrap values ​​<50% are not shown. The families are labeled according to GTDB taxonomy. b Circular map of the G2-11 chromosome. The region of magnetosome genomic island (MAI) is highlighted in red. c Organization of the G2-11 MGCs in comparison to MSR-1 and the uncultivated MTB CCP-1. Magnetosome genes are colored according to their position within the magnetosome operons of MSR-1. Connecting dotted lines indicate synteny between the G2-11 genes and CCP-1. i.e Maximum likelihood phylogenetic tree of concatenated amino acid sequences of the shared MamKMOPAQBST proteins for G2-11 and the MTB strains: uncultivated calcium carbonate producing MTB CCP-1, Magnetospira sp. QH-2, Approx. Terasakiella magnetica PR-1, Magnetovibrio blakemorei MV-1, Approx. Magneticavibrio boulderlite LM-1, Magnetospirillum sp. UT-4, M.gryphiswaldense MSR-1, M. magneticum AMB-1. Approx. Magnetaquicoccus inordinatus UR-1, Magnetococcus marinus MC-1, and Magnetofaba australis IT-1 were used as an outgroup. Branch length represents the number of base substitutions per site. The exact values ​​of branch support are indicated at nodes if deviate from 100% (calculated from 500 replicates using non-parametric bootstrap analysis). e Distribution of z-normalized tetranucleotide frequencies in the G2-11 MAI region in comparison to the flanking regions (Upstream MAI and Downstream MAI). Each dot represents a tetranucleotide combination. Pearson’s rightcoefficient of determination R2and the p values ​​are shown on the graphs. Credit: The ISME Journal (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41396-022-01348-y

Magnetic bacteria can align their movement with the Earth’s magnetic field thanks to chains of magnetic nanoparticles inside their cells. The blueprints for making and linking these magnetosomes are stored in the bacteria’s genes.

An international research team led by Professors Dr. Dirk Schuler and Dr. René Uebe at the University of Bayreuth has now discovered a cluster of such genes in non-magnetic bacteria for the first time. These genes are inactive but functional and probably entered the bacteria through horizontal gene transfer. The research findings were presented in The ISME Journal.

Gene transfer from one organism to another is referred to as “horizontal” when it is not “vertical” inheritance as part of a propagation process. In the realm of bacteria, horizontal transmission of genetic information is an important source of modification of existing species or emergence of new ones. The numerous genes that control the ability to synthesize magnetosomes can also be naturally transmitted horizontally to other bacteria.

So far, however, these genes have only been found in bacteria that already produce magnetosomes as a result of a previous successful gene transfer. But now, the Bayreuth microbiologists and their research partners in Hungary and France have discovered for the first time a cluster of such genes in the genome of a non-magnetic bacterium.

It is Rhodovastum atsumiense, which is classified as a photosynthetic bacteria because it can use the energy of sunlight for its metabolism. The magnetosome genes discovered in this bacterial species are inactive: the cells could not be induced to form magnetosomes in the laboratory, even under a variety of different culture conditions. So far, no photosynthetic bacteria are known that are naturally magnetic, although the Prof. Dr. Schüler’s team has previously succeeded in “magnetizing” such bacteria through artificial gene transfer.

“To our knowledge, this is the first detection of a complete set of ‘silent’ genes in a non-magnetic bacterium. This is likely an evolutionary early stage after the acquisition of the genes from another, yet unknown bacterium. Further genome analyzes revealed that the transferred gene cluster most likely originated from a magnetic bacterium belonging to class Alphaproteobacteria.”

“Future studies will show whether these genes can be activated in the natural environment of the bacteria. In any case, no activation takes place under laboratory conditions, as our results clearly show. Therefore, the presence of magnetosome genes alone does not indicate that magnetosome biosynthesis actually occurs. Caution is therefore advised when interpreting corresponding genomic data found in public databases,” says Prof. Dr. Dirk Schüler, who holds the Chair of Microbiology at the University of Bayreuth.

The researchers also addressed the question of why the host bacterium Rhodovastum atsumiense did not eliminate the magnetosome genes, even though it did not derive any selection advantage from them during evolution.

“The best way we can explain this, based on our genome analyses, is this: Gene transfer probably occurred at a more recent stage of evolution. Rapid elimination was not necessary because the magnetosome genes have no damaging effect on the host bacterium,” explains the first author Dr. Marina Dziuba, a long-time research associate in the University of Bayreuth’s Microbiology research group.

The new research findings follow a study published two years ago. Here, the Bayreuth microbiologists succeeded in introducing the complete set of magnetosome genes from the magnetic bacterium Magnetospirillum gryphiswaldense, which has long been established as a model organism in research, into the genome of a non-magnetic bacterium. Shortly thereafter, these host bacteria began biosynthesizing magnetosomes. They were apparently able to express the acquired foreign genes.

MV Dziuba et al, Silent gene clusters encode magnetic organelle biosynthesis in a non-magnetotactic phototrophic bacterium, The ISME Journal (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41396-022-01348-y

Marina V. Dziuba et al, Single‐step transfer of biosynthetic operons endows a non‐magnetotactic Magnetospirillum strain from wetland with magnetosome biosynthesis, Environmental Microbiology (2020). DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.14950

Provided by Bayreuth University

citation: Researchers discover ‘dormant’ magnetosome genes in non-magnetic bacteria (2022, December 21) retrieved 21 December 2022 from

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