Providing cells with structural rigidity
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The stiffness of bacteria prevents cells from bursting due to the large osmotic pressure across the cell wall. Many successful antibiotic chemotherapies target elements that alter mechanical properties of bacteria, and yet a global view of the biochemistry underlying the regulation of bacterial cell stiffness is still emerging. This connection is particularly interesting in opportunistic human pathogens such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa that have a large (80%) proportion of genes of unknown function and low susceptibility to different families of antibiotics, including beta-lactams, aminoglycosides, and quinolones. We used a high-throughput technique to study a library of 5,790 loss-of-function mutants covering ~80% of the nonessential genes and correlated P. aeruginosa individual genes with cell stiffness. We identified 42 genes coding for proteins with diverse functions that, when deleted individually, decreased cell stiffness by >20%. This approach enabled us to construct a “mechanical genome” for P. aeruginosa. d-Alanine dehydrogenase (DadA) is an enzyme that converts d-Ala to pyruvate that was included among the hits; when DadA was deleted, cell stiffness decreased by 18% (using multiple assays to measure mechanics). An increase in the concentration of d-Ala in cells downregulated the expression of genes in peptidoglycan (PG) biosynthesis, including the peptidoglycan-cross-linking transpeptidase genes ponA and dacC. Consistent with this observation, ultraperformance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis of murein from P. aeruginosa cells revealed that dadA deletion mutants contained PG with reduced cross-linking and altered composition compared to wild-type cells.