Loss of the acetate switch in Vibrio vulnificus enhances predation defence against Tetrahymena pyriformis
Reference: Applied and Environmental Microbiology (2021): Aem0166521

Vibrio vulnificus is an opportunistic human pathogen and autochthonous inhabitant of coastal marine environments, where the bacterium is under constant predation by heterotrophic protists or protozoans. As a result of this selection pressure, genetic variants with anti-predation mechanisms are selected for and persist in the environment. Such natural variants may also be pathogenic to animal or human hosts, making it important to understand these defence mechanisms. To identify anti-predator strategies, thirteen V. vulnificus strains of different genotypes isolated from diverse environments were exposed to predation by the ciliated protozoan, Tetrahymena pyriformis, and only strain ENV1 was resistant to predation. Further investigation of the cell-free supernatant showed that ENV1 acidifies the environment by the excretion of organic acids, which is toxic to T. pyriformis. As this predation resistance was dependent on the availability of iron, transcriptomes of V. vulnificus in iron-replete and iron-deplete conditions were compared. This analysis revealed that ENV1 ferments pyruvate and the resultant acetyl-CoA leads to acetate synthesis under aerobic conditions, a hallmark of overflow metabolism. The anaerobic respiration global regulator, arcA, was upregulated when iron was available. An ΔarcA deletion mutant of ENV1 accumulated less acetate and importantly, was sensitive to grazing by T. pyriformis. Based on the transcriptome response and quantification of metabolites, we conclude that ENV1 has adapted to overflow metabolism and has lost a control switch that shifts metabolism from acetate excretion to acetate assimilation, enabling it to excrete acetate continuously. We show that overflow metabolism and the acetate switch contribute to prey-predator interactions. Bacteria in the environment, including Vibrio spp., interact with protozoan predators. To defend against predation, bacteria evolve anti-predator mechanisms ranging from changing morphology, biofilm formation and secretion of toxins or virulence factors. Some of these adaptations may result in strains that are pathogenic to humans. Therefore, it is important to study predator defence strategies of environmental bacteria. V. vulnificus thrives in coastal waters and infects humans. Very little is know about the defence mechanisms V. vulnificus expresses against predation. Here we show that a V. vulnificus strain (ENV1) has rewired the central carbon metabolism enabling the production of excess organic acid that is toxic to the protozoan predator, T. pyriformis. This is a previously unknown mechanism of predation defence that protects against protozoan predators.

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Published By
Rasheedkhan Regina V., Noorian P., Bo Wen C. S., Constancias F., Kaliyamoorthy E., Booth S.C.M., Espinoza-Vergara G., Rice S. A., McDougald D.