Protein secretion as well as the assembly of bacterial motility appendages are central processes that substantially contribute to fitness and survival. This study highlights distinctive features of the mechanism that serves these functions in cyanobacteria, which are globally prevalent photosynthetic prokaryotes that significantly contribute to primary production. Our studies of biofilm development in the cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus uncovered a novel component required for the biofilm self-suppression mechanism that operates in this organism. This protein, which is annotated as “hypothetical,” is denoted EbsA (essential for biofilm self-suppression A) here. EbsA homologs are highly conserved and widespread in diverse cyanobacteria but are not found outside this clade. We revealed a tripartite complex of EbsA, Hfq, and the ATPase homolog PilB (formerly called T2SE) and demonstrated that each of these components is required for the assembly of the hairlike type IV pili (T4P) appendages, for DNA competence, and affects the exoproteome in addition to its role in biofilm self-suppression. These data are consistent with bioinformatics analyses that reveal only a single set of genes in S. elongatus to serve pilus assembly or protein secretion; we suggest that a single complex is involved in both processes. A phenotype resulting from the impairment of the EbsA homolog in the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. strain PCC 6803 implies that this feature is a general cyanobacterial trait. Moreover, comparative exoproteome analyses of wild-type and mutant strains of S. elongatus suggest that EbsA and Hfq affect the exoproteome via a process that is independent of PilB, in addition to their involvement in a T4P/secretion machinery. IMPORTANCE Cyanobacteria, environmentally prevalent photosynthetic prokaryotes, contribute ~25% of global primary production. Cyanobacterial biofilms elicit biofouling, thus leading to substantial economic losses; however, these microbial assemblages can also be beneficial, e.g., in wastewater purification processes and for biofuel production. Mechanistic aspects of cyanobacterial biofilm development were long overlooked, and genetic and molecular information emerged only in recent years. The importance of this study is 2-fold. First, it identifies novel components of cyanobacterial biofilm regulation, thus contributing to the knowledge of these processes and paving the way for inhibiting detrimental biofilms or promoting beneficial ones. Second, the data suggest that cyanobacteria may employ the same complex for the assembly of the motility appendages, type 4 pili, and protein secretion. A shared pathway was previously shown in only a few cases of heterotrophic bacteria, whereas numerous studies demonstrated distinct systems for these functions. Thus, our study broadens the understanding of pilus assembly/secretion in diverse bacteria and furthers the aim of controlling the formation of cyanobacterial biofilms.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Studies in the laboratories of Rakefet Schwarz and Susan Golden were supported by the program of the National Science Foundation and the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation (NSF-BSF 2012823). This study was also supported by grants from the Israel Science Foundation (ISF 1406/14 and 2494/19) to Rakefet Schwarz. Studies in the laboratory of Andy LiWang were supported by grants from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (FA9550-17-1-0447) and NSF-CREST: Center for Cellular and Biomolecular Machines at the University of California, Merced (NSF-HRD-1547848).
© 2021 Yegorov et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.
- Pilus assembly
- Protein secretion
- Synechococcus elongatus