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Transcriptome profiling of a curdlan-producing Agrobacterium reveals conserved regulatory mechanisms of exopolysaccharide biosynthesis

Anne M Ruffing and Rachel Ruizhen Chen*

Author Affiliations

School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, 311 Ferst Drive, Atlanta, GA 30332-0100, USA

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Microbial Cell Factories 2012, 11:17  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-11-17

Published: 3 February 2012



The ability to synthesize exopolysaccharides (EPS) is widespread among microorganisms, and microbial EPS play important roles in biofilm formation, pathogen persistence, and applications in the food and medical industries. Although it is well established that EPS synthesis is invariably in response to environmental cues, it remains largely unknown how various environmental signals trigger activation of the biochemical synthesis machinery.


We report here the transcriptome profiling of Agrobacterium sp. ATCC 31749, a microorganism that produces large amounts of a glucose polymer known as curdlan under nitrogen starvation. Transcriptome analysis revealed a nearly 100-fold upregulation of the curdlan synthesis operon upon transition to nitrogen starvation, thus establishing the prominent role that transcriptional regulation plays in the EPS synthesis. In addition to known mechanisms of EPS regulation such as activation by c-di-GMP, we identify novel mechanisms of regulation in ATCC 31749, including RpoN-independent NtrC regulation and intracellular pH regulation by acidocalcisomes. Furthermore, we show evidence that curdlan synthesis is also regulated by conserved cell stress responses, including polyphosphate accumulation and the stringent response. In fact, the stringent response signal, pppGpp, appears to be indispensible for transcriptional activation of curdlan biosynthesis.


This study identifies several mechanisms regulating the synthesis of curdlan, an EPS with numerous applications. These mechanisms are potential metabolic engineering targets for improving the industrial production of curdlan from Agrobacterium sp. ATCC 31749. Furthermore, many of the genes identified in this study are highly conserved across microbial genomes, and we propose that the molecular elements identified in this study may serve as universal regulators of microbial EPS synthesis.

Agrobacterium; Curdlan; ATCC 31749; Exopolysaccharide; Exopolysaccharide regulation; EPS transcriptional regulation