Recent studies of bacterial cellulose biosynthesis, including structural characterization of a functional cellulose synthase complex, provided the first mechanistic insight into this fascinating process. In most studied bacteria, just two subunits, BcsA and BcsB, are necessary and sufficient for the formation of the polysaccharide chain in vitro. Other subunits - which differ among various taxa - affect the enzymatic activity and product yield in vivo by modulating (i) the expression of the biosynthesis apparatus, (ii) the export of the nascent β-D-glucan polymer to the cell surface, and (iii) the organization of cellulose fibers into a higher-order structure. These auxiliary subunits play key roles in determining the quantity and structure of resulting biofilms, which is particularly important for the interactions of bacteria with higher organisms - leading to rhizosphere colonization and modulating the virulence of cellulose-producing bacterial pathogens inside and outside of host cells. We review the organization of four principal types of cellulose synthase operon found in various bacterial genomes, identify additional bcs genes that encode components of the cellulose biosynthesis and secretion machinery, and propose a unified nomenclature for these genes and subunits. We also discuss the role of cellulose as a key component of biofilms and in the choice between acute infection and persistence in the host.
Keywords: bacterial genomes; bacterial–host interaction; biofilm structure; environmental bacteria; nanocellulose; polysaccharide export.
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