Characterisation of a gene encoding a membrane protein that affects exopolysaccharide production and intracellular Mg2+ concentrations inEnsifer meliloti

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Exopolysaccharides play an important role in the physiology of a bacterial cell. Ensifer meliloti is capable of producing at least two types of exopolysaccharides (EPS): succinoglycan and galactoglucan. In E. meliloti, EPS are best known for their role in mediating interaction with its symbiotic hosts. It was previously shown that high concentrations of Mg2+ or K+ were capable of suppressing the mucoid phenotype associated with galactoglucan production in an expR+ derivative of Rm1021. In an attempt to determine how Mg2+ regulates galactoglucan production, SRmD363 was mutagenised and screened for mutants which were visibly mucoid at high concentrations of magnesium. Tn5 mutations in genes exoX, emmB, phoC and SMc00722 were isolated. SMc00722 is annotated as a hypothetical transmembrane protein that is conserved in the α-proteobacteria. Characterisation of SMc00722 in Rm1021 showed that the increased mucoidy was due to succinoglycan. Strains carrying mutations in SMc00722 showed increased biofilm production, and were more sensitive to high Mg2+ concentrations and deoxycholate. In addition, we show that strains carrying a mutation in SMc00722 have elevated intracellular Mg2+ concentrations. Taken together, the data are consistent with the hypothesis that SMc0722 may play a role in maintaining intracellular magnesium concentration, and we suggest that this gene be tentatively annotated as mhrA (magnesium homeostasis related).

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