by Mingming Yang, Shuangshuang Ren, Danyu Shen, Nianda Yang, Bingxin Wang, Sen Han, Xi Shen, Shan-Ho Chou, Guoliang Qian
Soil bacteria possess multiple weapons to fend off microbial competitors. Currently, we poorly understand the factors guiding bacterial decisions about weapon systems deployment. In this study, we investigated how such decisions are made by the soil bacterium Lysobacter enzymogenes, used in antifungal plant protection. We found that weapons production is guided by environmental cues. In rich media, which likely mimic environments crowded with other microbes, L. enzymogenes produces a contact-dependent weapon, type six secretion system (T6SS). In nutrient-poor media, likely dominated by filamentous oomycetes and fungi, L. enzymogenes synthesizes and secretes a heat-stable antifungal factor (HSAF), a contact-independent weapon. Surprisingly, the T6SS inner tube protein Hcp is accumulated intracellularly even in nutrient-poor media, when the T6SS is not assembled. We found that Hcp interacts with the transcription factor Clp required for activating HSAF biosynthesis operon expression. Hcp protects Clp from binding to c-di-GMP, an intracellular second messenger inhibiting DNA binding. The increased concentration of c-di-GMP-free Clp thus leads to higher gene expression and HSAF production. Therefore, when the contact-dependent weapon, T6SS, is not in use, accumulation of one of its structural components, Hcp, serves as a signal to enhance production of the contact-independent weapon, HSAF. The uncovered environment-dependent and auto-regulatory mechanisms shed light on the processes governing deployment of various weapon systems in environmental bacteria.