Background: The branched cyclic dodecylpeptide antibiotic bacitracin, produced by special strains of Bacillus, is synthesized nonribosomally by a large multienzyme complex composed of the three bacitracin synthetases BA1, BA2 and BA3. These enzymes activate and incorporate the constituent amino acids of bacitracin by a thiotemplate mechanism in a pathway driven by a protein template. The biochemical features of these enzymes have been studied intensively but little is known about the molecular organization of their genes.
Results: The entire bacitracin synthetase operon containing the genes bacA-bacC was cloned and sequenced, identifying a modular structure typical of peptide synthetases. The bacA gene product (BA1, 598kDa) contains five modules, with an internal epimerization domain attached to the fourth; bacB encodes BA2 (297kDa), and has two modules and a carboxy-terminal epimerization domain; bacC encodes BA3, five modules (723kDa) with additional internal epimerization domains attached to the second and fourth. A carboxy-terminal putative thioesterase domain was also detected in BA3. A putative cyclization domain was found in BA1 that may be involved in thiazoline ring formation. The adenylation/thioester-binding domains of the first two BA1 modules were overproduced and the detected amino-acid specificity coincides with the first two amino acids in bacitracin. Disruption of chromosomal bacB resulted in a bacitracin-deficient mutant.
Conclusions: The genes encoding the bacitracin synthetases BA1, BA2 and BA3 are organized in an operon, the structure of which reflects the modular architecture expected of peptide synthetases. In addition, a putative thiazoline ring formation domain was identified in the BA1 gene.