kinC/D-mediated heterogeneous expression of spo0A during logarithmical growth in Bacillus subtilis is responsible for partial suppression of φ29 development

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The host of the lytic bacteriophage φ29 is the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus subtilis. When infection occurs during early stages of sporulation, however, φ29 development is suppressed and the infecting phage genome becomes trapped into the developing spore. Recently, we have shown that Spo0A, the key transcriptional regulator for entry into sporulation, is directly responsible for suppression of the lytic φ29 cycle in cells having initiated sporulation. Surprisingly, we found that φ29 development is suppressed in a subpopulation of logarithmically growing culture and that spo0A is heterogeneously expressed during this growth stage. Furthermore, we showed that kinC and, to a minor extent, kinD, are responsible for heterogeneous expression levels of spo0A during logarithmical growth that are below the threshold to activate sporulation, but sufficient for suppression of the lytic cycle of φ29. Whereas spo0A was known to be heterogeneously expressed during the early stages of sporulation, our findings show that this also occurs during logarithmical growth. These insights are likely to have important consequences, not only for the life cycle of φ29, but also for B. subtilis developmental processes.

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