Promoter Architecture Differences among Alphaproteobacteria and Other Bacterial Taxa

mSystems. 2021 Aug 31;6(4):e0052621. doi: 10.1128/mSystems.00526-21. Epub 2021 Jul 13.


Much of our knowledge of bacterial transcription initiation has been derived from studying the promoters of Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis. Given the expansive diversity across the bacterial phylogeny, it is unclear how much of this knowledge can be applied to other organisms. Here, we report on bioinformatic analyses of promoter sequences of the primary σ factor (σ70) by leveraging publicly available transcription start site (TSS) sequencing data sets for nine bacterial species spanning five phyla. This analysis identifies previously unreported differences in the -35 and -10 elements of σ70-dependent promoters in several groups of bacteria. We found that Actinobacteria and Betaproteobacteria σ70-dependent promoters lack the TTG triad in their -35 element, which is predicted to be conserved across the bacterial phyla. In addition, the majority of the Alphaproteobacteria σ70-dependent promoters analyzed lacked the thymine at position -7 that is highly conserved in other phyla. Bioinformatic examination of the Alphaproteobacteria σ70-dependent promoters identifies a significant overrepresentation of essential genes and ones encoding proteins with common cellular functions downstream of promoters containing an A, C, or G at position -7. We propose that transcription of many σ70-dependent promoters in Alphaproteobacteria depends on the transcription factor CarD, which is an essential protein in several members of this phylum. Our analysis expands the knowledge of promoter architecture across the bacterial phylogeny and provides new information that can be used to engineer bacteria for use in medical, environmental, agricultural, and biotechnological processes. IMPORTANCE Transcription of DNA to RNA by RNA polymerase is essential for cells to grow, develop, and respond to stress. Understanding the process and control of transcription is important for health, disease, the environment, and biotechnology. Decades of research on a few bacteria have identified promoter DNA sequences that are recognized by the σ subunit of RNA polymerase. We used bioinformatic analyses to reveal previously unreported differences in promoter DNA sequences across the bacterial phylogeny. We found that many Actinobacteria and Betaproteobacteria promoters lack a sequence in their -35 DNA recognition element that was previously assumed to be conserved and that Alphaproteobacteria lack a thymine residue at position -7, also previously assumed to be conserved. Our work reports important new information about bacterial transcription, illustrates the benefits of studying bacteria across the phylogenetic tree, and proposes new lines of future investigation.

Keywords: bioinformatics; motif prediction; promoters; transcription.