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Heterologous expression of the surface-layer-like protein SllB induces the formation of long filaments of Escherichia coli consisting of protein-stabilized outer membrane

Heterologous expression of the surface-layer-like protein SllB induces the formation of long filaments of Escherichia coli consisting of protein-stabilized outer membrane

Microbiology 156(Pt 12): 3584-3595

Escherichia coli is one of the best studied micro-organisms and is the most widely used host in genetic engineering. The Gram-negative single cells are rod-shaped, and filaments are usually not found. Here, we describe the reproducible formation of elongated E. coli cells. During heterologous expression of the silent surface (S)-layer protein gene sllB from Lysinibacillus sphaericus JG-A12 in E. coli BL21(DE3), the cells were arranged as long chains which were surrounded by highly stable sheaths. These filaments had a length of >100 μm. In the stationary growth phase, microscopic analyses demonstrated the formation of unusually long transparent tube-like structures which were enclosing separate single cells. The tube-like structures were isolated and analysed by SDS-PAGE, infrared-spectroscopy and different microscopic methods in order to identify their unusual composition and structure. The tube-like structures were found to be like outer membranes, containing high levels of proteins and to which the recombinant S-layer proteins were attached. Despite the entire structure being indicative of a disordered cell division, the bacterial cells were highly viable and stable. To our knowledge, this is the first time that the induction of drastic morphological changes in E. coli by the expression of a foreign protein has been reported.

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Accession: 053527416

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PMID: 20829284

DOI: 10.1099/mic.0.040808-0

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