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Cell Differentiation in a Bacillus thuringiensis Population during Planktonic Growth, Biofilm Formation, and Host Infection

Verplaetse, Emilie, Slamti, Leyla, Gohar, Michel, Lereclus, Didier
mBio 2015 v.6 no.3 pp. e00138-15
Bacillus thuringiensis, bacteria, biofilm, cell differentiation, death, entomopathogens, fluorescence, gene expression, insect larvae, insects, models, phenotype, sporulation, vegetative cells, virulence
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is armed to complete a full cycle in its insect host. During infection, virulence factors are expressed under the control of the quorum sensor PlcR to kill the host. After the host’s death, the quorum sensor NprR controls a necrotrophic lifestyle, allowing the vegetative cells to use the insect cadaver as a bioincubator and to survive. Only a part of the Bt population sporulates in the insect cadaver, and the precise composition of the whole population and its evolution over time are unknown. Using fluorescent reporters to record gene expression at the single-cell level, we have determined the differentiation course of a Bt population and explored the lineage existing among virulent, necrotrophic, and sporulating cells. The dynamics of cell differentiation were monitored during growth in homogenized medium, biofilm formation, and colonization of insect larvae. We demonstrated that in the insect host and in planktonic culture in rich medium, the virulence, necrotrophism, and sporulation regulators are successively activated in the same cell. In contrast, in biofilms, activation of PlcR is dispensable for NprR activation and we observed a greater heterogeneity than under the other two growth conditions. We also showed that sporulating cells arise almost exclusively from necrotrophic cells. In biofilm and in the insect cadaver, we identified an as-yet-uncharacterized category of cells that do not express any of the reporters used. Overall, we showed that PlcR, NprR, and Spo0A act as interconnected integrators to allow finely tuned adaptation of the pathogen to its environment.