Sulfonolipids (SLs) are bacterial lipids that are structurally related to sphingolipids. Synthesis of this group of lipids seems to be mainly restricted to Flavobacterium, Cytophaga and other members of the phylum Bacteroidetes. These lipids have a wide range of biological activities: they can induce multicellularity in choanoflagellates, act as von Willebrand factor receptor antagonists, inhibit DNA polymerase, or function as tumour suppressing agents. In Flavobacterium johnsoniae, their presence seems to be required for efficient gliding motility. Until now, no genes/enzymes involved in SL synthesis have been identified, which has been limiting for the study of some of the biological effects these lipids have. Here, we describe the identification of the cysteate-fatty acyl transferase Fjoh_2419 required for synthesis of the SL precursor capnine in F. johnsoniae. This enzyme belongs to the α-oxoamine synthase family similar to serine palmitoyl transferases, 2-amino-3-oxobutyrate coenzyme A ligase and 8-amino-7-oxononanoate synthases. Expression of the gene fjoh_2419 in Escherichia coli caused the formation of a capnine-derived molecule. Flavobacterium johnsoniae mutants deficient in fjoh_2419 lacked SLs and were more sensitive to many antibiotics. Mutant growth was not affected in liquid medium but the cells exhibited defects in gliding motility.
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