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The mxd operon in Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 is induced in response to starvation and regulated by ArcS/ArcA and BarA/UvrY

Jana Müller1, Soni Shukla1, Kathinka A Jost1 and Alfred M Spormann123*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94035-4020, USA

2 Department of Chemical Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94035-5025, USA

3 Biomedical Engineering and Science, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94035-5429, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2013, 13:119  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-13-119

Published: 27 May 2013



S. oneidensis MR-1 is a dissimilatory metal-reducing bacterium. Under anoxic conditions S. oneidensis MR-1 attaches to and uses insoluble minerals such as Fe(III) and Mn(IV) oxides as electron acceptors. In the laboratory, S. oneidensis MR-1 forms biofilms under hydrodynamic flow conditions on a borosilicate glass surface; formation of biofilms was previously found to be dependent on the mxd gene cluster (mxdABCD).


This study revealed environmental and genetic factors regulating expression of the mxd genes in S. oneidensis MR-1. Physiological experiments conducted with a S. oneidensis MR-1 strain carrying a transcriptional lacZ fusion to the mxd promoter identified electron donor starvation as a key factor inducing mxd gene expression. Tn5 mutagenesis identified the ArcS/ArcA two-component signaling system as a repressor of mxd expression in S. oneidensis MR-1 under planktonic conditions. Biofilms of ∆arcS and ∆arcA strains carrying a transcriptional gfp -reporter fused to the mxd promoter revealed a reduced mxd expression, suggesting that ArcS/ArcA are necessary for activation of mxd expression under biofilm conditions. Biofilms of ∆arcS and ∆arcA mutants were unable to form a compact three-dimensional structure consistent with a low level of mxd expression. In addition, BarA/UvrY was identified as a major regulator of mxd expression under planktonic conditions. Interestingly, biofilms of ∆barA and ∆uvrY mutants were able to form three-dimensional structures that were, however, less compact compared to wild type biofilms.


We have shown here that the mxd genes in S. oneidensis MR-1 are controlled transcriptionally in response to carbon starvation and by the ArcS/ArcA and the BarA/UvrY signaling system. BarA might function as a sensor to assess the metabolic state of the cell, including carbon starvation, leading to expression of the mxd operon and therefore control biofilm formation.