Guardians in a stressful world: the Opu family of compatible solute transporters fromBacillus subtilis

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The development of a semi-permeable cytoplasmic membrane was a key event in the evolution of microbial proto-cells. As a result, changes in the external osmolarity will inevitably trigger water fluxes along the osmotic gradient. The ensuing osmotic stress has consequences for the magnitude of turgor and will negatively impact cell growth and integrity. No microorganism can actively pump water across the cytoplasmic membrane; hence, microorganisms have to actively adjust the osmotic potential of their cytoplasm to scale and direct water fluxes in order to prevent dehydration or rupture. They will accumulate ions and physiologically compliant organic osmolytes, the compatible solutes, when they face hyperosmotic conditions to retain cell water, and they rapidly expel these compounds through the transient opening of mechanosensitive channels to curb water efflux when exposed to hypo-osmotic circumstances. Here, we provide an overview on the salient features of the osmostress response systems of the ubiquitously distributed bacterium Bacillus subtilis with a special emphasis on the transport systems and channels mediating regulation of cellular hydration and turgor under fluctuating osmotic conditions. The uptake of osmostress protectants via the Opu family of transporters, systems of central importance for the management of osmotic stress by B. subtilis, will be particularly highlighted.

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