Bacteria synthesize inorganic polyphosphate (polyP) in response to a wide variety of stresses, and production of polyP is essential for stress response and survival in many important pathogens and bacteria used in biotechnological processes. However, surprisingly little is known about the molecular mechanisms that control polyP synthesis. We have therefore developed a novel genetic screen that specifically links growth of Escherichia coli to polyP synthesis, allowing us to isolate mutations leading to enhanced polyP production. Using this system, we have identified mutations in the polyP-synthesizing enzyme polyP kinase (PPK) that lead to dramatic increases in in vivo polyP synthesis but do not substantially affect the rate of polyP synthesis by PPK in vitro These mutations are distant from the PPK active site and found in interfaces between monomers of the PPK tetramer. We have also shown that high levels of polyP lead to intracellular magnesium starvation. Our results provide new insights into the control of bacterial polyP accumulation and suggest a simple, novel strategy for engineering bacteria with increased polyP contents.IMPORTANCE PolyP is an ancient, universally conserved biomolecule and is important for stress response, energy metabolism, and virulence in a remarkably broad range of microorganisms. PolyP accumulation by bacteria is also important in biotechnology applications. For example, it is critical to enhanced biological phosphate removal (EBPR) from wastewater. Understanding how bacteria control polyP synthesis is therefore of broad importance in both the fields of bacterial pathogenesis and biological engineering. Using Escherichia coli as a model organism, we have identified the first known mutations in polyP kinase that lead to increases in cellular polyP content.
Keywords: bacterial genetics; enzyme engineering; inorganic polyphosphate; mutagenesis; stress response.
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