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Open Access Research article

A shotgun antisense approach to the identification of novel essential genes in Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Ruggero Rusmini1, Davide Vecchietti1, Raffaella Macchi1, Faustino Vidal-Aroca12 and Giovanni Bertoni1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Life Sciences, Università degli Studi di Milano, via Celoria 26, 20133 Milan, Italy

2 Alcon Italia S.p.A., viale Richard 1/B, 20143 Milan, Italy

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BMC Microbiology 2014, 14:24  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-14-24

Published: 5 February 2014



Antibiotics in current use target a surprisingly small number of cellular functions: cell wall, DNA, RNA, and protein biosynthesis. Targeting of novel essential pathways is expected to play an important role in the discovery of new antibacterial agents against bacterial pathogens, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, that are difficult to control because of their ability to develop resistance, often multiple, to all current classes of clinical antibiotics.


We aimed to identify novel essential genes in P. aeruginosa by shotgun antisense screening. This technique was developed in Staphylococcus aureus and, following a period of limited success in Gram-negative bacteria, has recently been used effectively in Escherichia coli. To also target low expressed essential genes, we included some variant steps that were expected to overcome the non-stringent regulation of the promoter carried by the expression vector used for the shotgun antisense libraries. Our antisense screenings identified 33 growth-impairing single-locus genomic inserts that allowed us to generate a list of 28 “essential-for-growth” genes: five were “classical” essential genes involved in DNA replication, transcription, translation, and cell division; seven were already reported as essential in other bacteria; and 16 were “novel” essential genes with no homologs reported to have an essential role in other bacterial species. Interestingly, the essential genes in our panel were suggested to take part in a broader range of cellular functions than those currently targeted by extant antibiotics, namely protein secretion, biosynthesis of cofactors, prosthetic groups and carriers, energy metabolism, central intermediary metabolism, transport of small molecules, translation, post-translational modification, non-ribosomal peptide synthesis, lipopolysaccharide synthesis/modification, and transcription regulation. This study also identified 43 growth-impairing inserts carrying multiple loci targeting 105 genes, of which 25 have homologs reported as essential in other bacteria. Finally, four multigenic growth-impairing inserts belonged to operons that have never been reported to play an essential role.


For the first time in P. aeruginosa, we applied regulated antisense RNA expression and showed the feasibility of this technology for the identification of novel essential genes.