Peptidoglycan editing provides immunity to Acinetobacter baumannii during bacterial warfare

Sci Adv. 2020 Jul 22;6(30):eabb5614. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abb5614. eCollection 2020 Jul.


Peptidoglycan (PG) is essential in most bacteria. Thus, it is often targeted by various assaults, including interbacterial attacks via the type VI secretion system (T6SS). Here, we report that the Gram-negative bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii strain ATCC 17978 produces, secretes, and incorporates the noncanonical d-amino acid d-lysine into its PG during stationary phase. We show that PG editing increases the competitiveness of A. baumannii during bacterial warfare by providing immunity against peptidoglycan-targeting T6SS effectors from various bacterial competitors. In contrast, we found that d-Lys production is detrimental to pathogenesis due, at least in part, to the activity of the human enzyme d-amino acid oxidase (DAO), which degrades d-Lys producing H2O2 toxic to bacteria. Phylogenetic analyses indicate that the last common ancestor of A. baumannii had the ability to produce d-Lys. However, this trait was independently lost multiple times, likely reflecting the evolution of A. baumannii as a human pathogen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acinetobacter baumannii* / genetics
  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Biological Warfare*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism
  • Peptidoglycan / metabolism
  • Phylogeny


  • Amino Acids
  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Peptidoglycan
  • Hydrogen Peroxide