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Improved chemical and isotopic labeling of biomembranes in Bacillus subtilis by leveraging CRISPRi inhibition of beta-ketoacy...

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Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences
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Assessing the structure of living microbial cell membranes is a challenging analytical goal. The cell membrane is defined by its transverse structure, an approximately 5 nm-thick selectively permeable bilayer that serves many important cellular functions. Compositionally complex, dynamic, and organized in both the transverse and lateral dimensions, understanding the cell membrane structure—and the role that structure plays in cellular function, communication, and environmental sensing is an active scientific effort. Previously, we have devised a novel isotopic labeling approach for membrane lipids to enable direct in vivo structural studies of the cell membrane in the Gram-positive bacterium, Bacillus subtilis, using small-angle neutron scattering. This was accomplished through a genetic inhibition of fatty acid (FA) degradation (ΔfadN) and a chemical inhibition of FA biosynthesis using cerulenin, an irreversible inhibitor of type II fatty acid synthases. Here, we improve upon the previous system by introducing a dCas9/sgRNA-fabF complex that blocks transcription of the essential fabF gene when under xylose induction. This leads to greater sensitivity to cerulenin in the mutant strain (JEBS102) and more robust cell growth when supplementary FAs are introduced to the culture medium. A subtle change in FA uptake is noted when compared to the prior labeling strategy. This is seen in the gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) data as a higher ratio of n16:0 to a15:0, and manifests in an apparent increase in the membrane thickness determined via neutron scattering. This represents an improved method of isotopic labeling for the cell membrane of Bacillus subtilis; enabling improved investigations of cellular uptake and utilization of FAs, cell membrane structure and organization as a phenotypic response to metabolic and environmental changes.