A Lux-like Quorum Sensing System in the Extreme Acidophile Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans
The genome of the acidophilic, proteobacterium Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans, contains linked but divergently oriented genes, termed afeI and afeR, whose predicted protein products are significantly similar to the LuxI and LuxR families of proteins. A possible promoter and Lux box are predicted upstream of afeI. A cloned copy of afeI, expressed in E. coli, encodes an enzyme that catalyzes the production of a diffusible compound identified by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry as an unsubstituted N-acyl homoserine lactone (AHL) of chain length C14. This AHL can be detected by a reporter strain of Sinorhizobium meliloti Rm41 suggesting that it is biologically active. The reporter strain also responds to extracts of the supernatant of A. ferrooxidans grown to early stationary phase in sulfur medium indicating that a diffusible AHL is produced by this microorganism. Semi-quantitative RT-PCR experiments indicate that afeI and afeR are expressed maximally in early stationary phase and are more expressed when A. ferrooxidans is grown in sulfur- rather than iron-containing medium. Given the predicted amino acid sequence and functional properties of AfeI and AfeR it is proposed that A. ferrooxidans has a quorum sensing system similar to the LuxI-LuxR paradigm.