Construction and Characterization of a proU-gfp Transcriptional Fusion That Measures Water Availability in a Microbial Habitat

Catherine A. Axtell, Iowa State University
Gwyn A. Beattie, Iowa State University

This article is from Applied and Environmental Microbiology 68 (2002): 4604, doi: 10.1128/AEM.68.9.4604-4612.2002. Posted with permission.


We constructed and characterized a transcriptional fusion that measures the availability of water to a bacterial cell. This fusion between the proU promoter from Escherichia coli and the reporter gene gfp was introduced into strains of E. coli, Pantoea agglomerans, and Pseudomonas syringae. The proU-gfp fusion in these bacterial biosensor strains responded in a quantitative manner to water deprivation caused by the presence of NaCl, Na2SO4, KCl, or polyethylene glycol (molecular weight, 8000). The fusion was induced to a detectable level by NaCl concentrations of as low as 10 mM in all three bacterial species. Water deprivation induced proU-gfp expression in both planktonic and surface-associated cells; however, it induced a higher level of expression in the surface-associated cells. Following the introduction of P. agglomerans biosensor cells onto bean leaves, the cells detected a significant decrease in water availability within only 5 min. After 30 min, the populations were exposed, on average, to a water potential equivalent to that imposed by approximately 55 mM NaCl. These results demonstrate the effectiveness of a proU-gfp-based biosensor for evaluating water availability on leaves. Furthermore, the inducibility of proU-gfp in multiple bacterial species illustrates the potential for tailoring proU-gfp-based biosensors to specific habitats.