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Frontiers in Microbiology

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Chemotactic bacteria sense environmental changes via dedicated receptors that bind to extra- or intracellular cues and relay this signal to ultimately alter direction of movement toward beneficial cues and away from harmful environments. In complex environments, such as the rhizosphere, bacteria must be able to sense and integrate diverse cues. Azospirillum brasilense is a microaerophilic motile bacterium that promotes growth of cereals and grains. Root surface colonization is a prerequisite for the beneficial effects on plant growth but how motile A. brasilense navigates the rhizosphere is poorly studied. Previously only 2 out of 51 A. brasilense chemotaxis receptors have been characterized, AerC and Tlp1, and only Tlp1 was found to be essential for wheat root colonization. Here we describe another chemotaxis receptor, named Aer, that is homologous to the Escherichia coli Aer receptor, likely possesses an FAD cofactor and is involved in aerotaxis (taxis in an air gradient). We also found that the A. brasilense Aer contributes to sensing chemical gradients originating from wheat roots. In addition to A. brasilense Aer having a putative N-terminal FAD-binding PAS domain, it possesses a C-terminal PilZ domain that contains all the conserved residues for binding c-di-GMP. Mutants lacking the PilZ domain of Aer are altered in aerotaxis and are completely null in wheat root colonization and they also fail to sense gradients originating from wheat roots. The PilZ domain of Aer is also vital in integrating Aer signaling with signaling from other chemotaxis receptors to sense gradients from wheat root surfaces and colonizing wheat root surfaces.


This article was published openly thanks to the University of Tennessee Open Publishing Support Fund.

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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