Faculty & Staff


B. A. 1955 Brigham Young University
Ph.D. 1963 University of Southern California
Postdoctoral Research: University of Illinois

Areas of Study

Developmental microbiology of actinomycetes
microbial insecticides
bacteria-nematode symbiosis

Research Papers

  • Kim IH, Aryal SK, Aghai DT, Casanova-Torres ÁM, Hillman K, Kozuch MP, Mans EJ, Mauer TJ, Ogier JC, Ensign JC, Gaudriault S, Goodman WG, Goodrich-Blair H, Dillman AR (2017) The insect pathogenic bacterium Xenorhabdus innexi has attenuated virulence in multiple insect model hosts yet encodes a potent mosquitocidal toxin. BMC genomics 18((1)):927 PMC5709968 · Pubmed · DOI

    No abstract available.

  • Ciche TA, Blackburn M, Carney JR, Ensign JC (2003) Photobactin: a catechol siderophore produced by Photorhabdus luminescens, an entomopathogen mutually associated with Heterorhabditis bacteriophora NC1 nematodes. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 69(8):4706-13 (PMC169088) · Pubmed

    The nematode Heterorhabditis bacteriophora transmits a monoculture of Photorhabdus luminescens bacteria to insect hosts, where it requires the bacteria for efficient insect pathogenicity and as a substrate for growth and reproduction. Siderophore production was implicated as being involved in the symbiosis because an ngrA mutant inadequate for supporting nematode growth and reproduction was also deficient in producing siderophore activity and ngrA is homologous to a siderophore biosynthetic gene, entD. The role of the siderophore in the symbiosis with the nematode was determined by isolating and characterizing a mini-Tn5-induced mutant, NS414, producing no detectable siderophore activity. This mutant, being defective for growth in iron-depleted medium, was normal in supporting nematode growth and reproduction, in transmission by the dauer juvenile nematode, and in insect pathogenicity. The mini-Tn5 transposon was inserted into phbH; whose protein product is a putative peptidyl carrier protein homologous to the nonribosomal peptide synthetase VibF of Vibrio cholerae. Other putative siderophore biosynthetic and transport genes flanking phbH were characterized. The catecholate siderophore was purified, its structure was determined to be 2-(2,3-dihydroxyphenyl)-5-methyl-4,5-dihydro-oxazole-4-carboxylic acid [4-(2,3-dihydroxybenzoylamino)-butyl]-amide, and it was given the generic name photobactin. Antibiotic activity was detected with purified photobactin, indicating that the siderophore may contribute to antibiosis of the insect cadaver. These results eliminate the lack of siderophore activity as the cause for the inadequacy of the ngrA mutant in supporting nematode growth and reproduction.

  • Ciche TA, Ensign JC (2003) For the insect pathogen Photorhabdus luminescens, which end of a nematode is out? Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 69(4):1890-7 (PMC154793) · Pubmed

    The nematode Heterorhabditis bacteriophora is the vector for transmitting the entomopathogenic bacterium Photorhabdus luminescens between insect larvae. The dauer juvenile (DJ) stage nematode selectively retains P. luminescens in its intestine until it releases the bacteria into the hemocoel of an insect host. We report the results of studying the transmission of the bacteria by its nematode vector. Cells of P. luminescens labeled with green fluorescent protein preferentially colonized a region of the DJ intestine immediately behind the basal bulb, extending for various distances toward the anus. Incubation of DJ nematodes in vitro in insect hemolymph induced regurgitation of the bacteria. Following a 30-min lag, the bacteria migrated in a gradual and staggered movement toward and ultimately exited the mouth. This regurgitation reaction was induced by a low-molecular-weight, heat- and protease-stable, anionic component present in arthropod hemolymph and in supernatants from insect cell cultures. Nematodes anesthetized with levamisole or treated with the antihelmenthic agent ivermectin did not release their bacteria into hemolymph. The ability to visualize P. luminescens in the DJ nematode intestine provides the first clues to the mechanism of release of the bacteria during infection of insect larvae. This and the partial characterization of a component of hemolymph triggering release of the bacteria render this fascinating example of both a mutualistic symbiosis and disease transmission amenable to future genetic and molecular study.

  • Bowen DJ, Ensign JC (2001) Isolation and characterization of intracellular protein inclusions produced by the entomopathogenic bacterium Photorhabdus luminescens. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 67(10):4834-41 (PMC93238) · Pubmed

    Cells of the entomopathogenic bacterium Photorhabdus luminescens contain two types of morphologically distinct crystalline inclusion proteins. The larger rectangular inclusion (type 1) and a smaller bipyramid-shaped inclusion (type 2) were purified from cell lysates by differential centrifugation and isopycnic density gradient centrifugation. Both structures are composed of protein and are readily soluble at pH 11 and 4 in 1% sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) and in 8 M urea. Electrophoretic analysis reveals that each inclusion is composed of a single protein subunit with a molecular mass of 11,000 Da. The proteins differ in amino acid composition, protease digestion pattern, and immunological cross-reactivity. The protein inclusions are first visible in the cells at the time of late exponential growth. Western blot analyses showed that the proteins appeared in cells during mid- to late exponential growth. When at maximum size in stationary-phase cells, the proteins constitute 40% of the total cellular protein. The protein inclusions are not used during long-term starvation of the cells and were not toxic when injected into or fed to Galleria mellonella larvae.

  • Ciche TA, Bintrim SB, Horswill AR, Ensign JC (2001) A Phosphopantetheinyl transferase homolog is essential for Photorhabdus luminescens to support growth and reproduction of the entomopathogenic nematode Heterorhabditis bacteriophora. J. Bacteriol. 183(10):3117-26 (PMC95212) · Pubmed

    The bacterium Photorhabdus luminescens is a symbiont of the entomopathogenic nematode Heterorhabditis bacteriophora. The nematode requires the bacterium for infection of insect larvae and as a substrate for growth and reproduction. The nematodes do not grow and reproduce in insect hosts or on artificial media in the absence of viable P. luminescens cells. In an effort to identify bacterial factors that are required for nematode growth and reproduction, transposon-induced mutants of P. luminescens were screened for the loss of the ability to support growth and reproduction of H. bacteriophora nematodes. One mutant, NGR209, consistently failed to support nematode growth and reproduction. This mutant was also defective in the production of siderophore and antibiotic activities. The transposon was inserted into an open reading frame homologous to Escherichia coli EntD, a 4'-phosphopantetheinyl (Ppant) transferase, which is required for the biosynthesis of the catechol siderophore enterobactin. Ppant transferases catalyze the transfer of the Ppant moiety from coenzyme A to a holo-acyl, -aryl, or -peptidyl carrier protein(s) required for the biosynthesis of fatty acids, polyketides, or nonribosomal peptides. Possible roles of a Ppant transferase in the ability of P. luminescens to support nematode growth and reproduction are discussed.

  • Bowen DJ, Ensign JC (1998) Purification and characterization of a high-molecular-weight insecticidal protein complex produced by the entomopathogenic bacterium photorhabdus luminescens Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 64(8):3029-35 (PMC106811) · Pubmed

    Photorhabdus luminescens is a gram-negative enteric bacterium that is found in association with entomopathogenic nematodes of the family Heterorhabditidae. The nematodes infect a variety of soil-dwelling insects. Upon entering an insect host, the nematode releases P. luminescens cells from its intestinal tract, and the bacteria quickly establish a lethal septicemia. When grown in peptone broth, in the absence of the nematodes, the bacteria produce a protein toxin complex that is lethal when fed to, or injected into the hemolymph of, Manduca sexta larvae and several other insect species. The toxin purified as a protein complex which has an estimated molecular weight of 1,000,000 and contains no protease, phospholipase, or hemolytic activity and only a trace of lipase activity. The purified toxin possesses insecticidal activity whether injected or given orally. Analyses of the denatured complex by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis showed it to be composed of several protein subunits ranging in size from 30 to 200 kDa. The complex was further separated by native gel electrophoresis into three components, two of which retained insecticidal activity. The purified native toxin complex was found to be active in nanogram concentrations against insects representing four orders of the class Insecta.

  • Bintrim SB, Ensign JC (1998) Insertional inactivation of genes encoding the crystalline inclusion proteins of Photorhabdus luminescens results in mutants with pleiotropic phenotypes. J. Bacteriol. 180(5):1261-9 (PMC107016) · Pubmed

    The entomopathogenic bacterium Photorhabdus luminescens exhibits phase variation when cultured in vitro. The variant forms of P. luminescens are pleiotropic and are designated phase I and phase II variants. One of the characteristic phenotypes of phase I cells is the production of two types of intracellular protein inclusions. The genes encoding the protein monomers that form these inclusions, designated cipA and cipB, were cloned and characterized. cipA and cipB encode hydrophobic proteins of 11,648 and 11,308 Da, respectively. The deduced amino acid sequences of CipA and CipB have no significant amino acid sequence similarity to any other known protein but have 25% identity and 49% similarity to each other. Insertional inactivation of cipA or cipB in phase I cells of P. luminescens produced mutants that differ from phase I cells in bioluminescence, the pattern and activities of extracellular products, biochemical traits, adsorption of dyes, and ability to support nematode growth and reproduction. In general, the cip mutants were phenotypically more similar to each other than to either phase I or phase II variants.

  • Kawamoto S, Watanabe H, Hesketh A, Ensign JC, Ochi K (1997) Expression analysis of the ssgA gene product, associated with sporulation and cell division in Streptomyces griseus. Microbiology (Reading, Engl.) 143 ( Pt 4:1077-86 · Pubmed

    The ssgA gene of Streptomyces griseus B2682, when present in high copy number, results in both suppression of sporulation and fragmented growth of mycelia. Western analysis with polyclonal antibodies against the gene product (SsgA) revealed a close correlation between SsgA accumulation and the onset of sporulation in wild-type cells. The protein was only detected in the cytoplasm. Certain developmental mutants of S. griseus (afs, reIC and brgA) which are defective in aerial mycelium formation in solid culture and submerged spore formation in liquid culture failed to accumulate SsgA. The SsgA protein appeared shortly (1 h) after nutritional shift-down of strain B2682 cells. afs mutant cells sporulated and expressed SsgA only when A-factor was present both before and after nutritional shift-down. Introduction of the ssgA gene in a low-copy-number vector into strain B2682 resulted in fivefold overexpression of SsgA, and was accompanied by fragmented growth of mycelia and suppression of submerged spore formation (in liquid culture) and aerial mycelium formation (in solid culture). Streptomycin production was not inhibited. In a control experiment, a nonfunctional ssgA gene possessing a frameshift mutation near its N-terminus had no effect on either growth or sporulation. It is proposed that the ssgA gene product plays a role in promoting the developmental process of S. griseus.

  • Serres MH, Ensign JC (1996) Endogenous ADP-ribosylation of proteins in Mycobacterium smegmatis. J. Bacteriol. 178(20):6074-7 (PMC178471) · Pubmed

    Endogenous ADP-ribosylation of two proteins with molecular weights of 30,000 (30K) and 80,000 (80K) was detected in cell extracts of Mycobacterium smegmatis. Modification of these proteins was enzymatic. The ADP-ribose bound to 30K was removed by HgCl2 but not by NH2OH, suggesting the modification of a cysteine residue. The ADP-ribose bound to 80K was not removed by either HgCl2 or NH2OH, which is consistent with the modification of an asparagine residue. ADP-ribosylation of 80K appeared to be reversible.

  • Vesselinova NI, Ensign JC (1996) Flagellar proteins of motile spores of Actinomycetes. J. Ind. Microbiol. 16(6):377-82 · Pubmed

    Flagella of some of the actinoplanete genera were purified and the molecular sizes of their flagellin subunits compared by SDS-PAGE analysis to flagellins of cells of other bacteria. Several species of Actinoplanes have a major flagellar protein of subunit sizes of 42-43 kDa and a lesser amount of a second protein, possibly a minor flagellin subunit, of 60 kDa. The flagellar protein sizes of other actinoplanetes ranged from 32-43 kDa (major) and 48-58 kDa (minor). Antibodies formed against the 42-kDa protein of A. rectilineatus showed cross-reactivity in Western blots against flagellar proteins of spores of other Actinoplanes species, two species of Dactylosporangium and an Ampullariella species. Cross-reactivity was also observed with motile cells of two other actinomycetes, Arthrobacter atrocyaneus and a Geodermatophilus species, and with Bacillus subtilis. No cross-reactivity was observed with Escherichia coli or Planomonospora parontospora flagellar proteins. The amino acid composition and partial N-terminal sequence of the 42-kDa flagellar protein of A. rectilineatus was compared to literature data for other bacterial flagellins and found to be most similar to B. subtilis 168.

  • Penyige A, Kálmánczhelyi A, Sipos A, Ensign JC, Barabás G (1994) Modification of glutamine synthetase in Streptomyces griseus by ADP-ribosylation and adenylylation. Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 204(2):598-605 · Pubmed

    Addition of NH4+ to STreptomyces griseus 2682 cells grown in NO3- containing medium resulted in a rapid decline in glutamine synthetase activity due to covalent modification of the enzyme. The NH4+ promoted inactivation of the enzyme was inhibited by the ADP-ribosyltransferase inhibitor 3-methoxybenzamide. In the presence of ADP-ribosyltransferase activity the purified glutamine synthetase was also inhibited by NAD+ in a concentration-dependent manner. ADP-ribosylation of glutamine synthetase was demonstrated in vitro by showing the incorporation of labeled ADP-ribose from [alpha-32P]NAD+ into glutamine synthetase subunits. Beside ADP-ribosylation, adenylylation of glutamine synthetase was also shown in S. griseus since phosphodiesterase I treatment reactivated the enzyme in crude extracts of NH(4+)-shocked cells. Glutamine synthetase was also inhibited and modified by ATP in crude cellular extracts. These results suggest that in S. griseus 2682 ADP-ribosylation of glutamine synthetase could be an alternative modification to adenylylation to regulate glutamine synthetase activity.

  • Ensign JC, Normand P, Burden JP, Yallop CA (1993) Physiology of some actinomycete genera. Res. Microbiol. 144(8):657-60 · Pubmed

    Actinomycetes are widespread in the environment and are mainly organotrophic. Studies of their ecology have been primarily focussed on their detection and isolation, with comparatively little attention to the control mechanisms that determine their occurrence and behaviour in their natural environments. This session provided some diverse examples of approaches to this problem. Several actinomycete genera produce motile spores. The significance of flagella proteins and factors influencing spore motility and germination are considered. The genus Frankia forms nitrogen-fixing associations with non-leguminous plants. Molecular techniques have been used to clarify the endophyte-host relationships. Micromonospora species are common in the environment. The growth and physiology of a gentamicin-producing strain are described. Thermophilic actinomycetes in the genus Thermoactinomyces are common in composts and other self-heating environments. Novel isolates from acid soil, which grow and produce enzymes active at high temperatures and in acidic conditions, are discussed.

  • Penyige A, Vargha G, Ensign JC, Barabás G (1992) The possible role of ADP ribosylation in physiological regulation of sporulation in Streptomyces griseus. Gene 115(1-2):181-5 · Pubmed

    The role of ADP ribosylation of proteins in the physiological regulation of sporulation in Streptomyces griseus was studied. We report here that both the activity of NAD+: arginine ADP-ribosyltransferase (ADPRT) and the pattern of ADP-ribosylated proteins showed characteristic changes during the life cycle in S. griseus 2682. Analysis off ADP-ribosylated proteins revealed that in a nonsporulating mutant of the parental wild-type (wt) strain (Bld7 mutant), both the activity of ADPRT and the pattern of ADP-ribosylated proteins were different from those of the parental strain. Addition of 3-aminobenzamide (3AB), the most potent inhibitor of ADPRT, inhibited sporulation of S. griseus 2682 and the A-factor (AF)-induced sporulation of S. griseus Bld7, but in both cases the inhibitory effect of 3AB was strictly age-dependent. Using [alpha-32P]GTP, we have demonstrated the presence of GTP-binding proteins in purified cell membranes of S. griseus 2682 and S. griseus Bld7. The same GTP-binding proteins were observed in Bld7 and the wt. AF stimulated the basal GTPase activity of cell membranes of S. griseus 2682 in a concentration-dependent manner, suggesting that GTP-binding proteins might be involved in the AF-induced sporulation process.

  • McBride MJ, Ensign JC (1990) Regulation of trehalose metabolism by Streptomyces griseus spores. J. Bacteriol. 172(7):3637-43 (PMC213337) · Pubmed

    Spores of Streptomyces griseus contain trehalose and trehalase, but trehalose is not readily hydrolyzed until spore germination is initiated. Trehalase in crude extracts of spores, germinated spores, and mycelia of S. griseus had a pH optimum of approximately 6.2, had a Km value for trehalose of approximately 11 mM, and was most active in buffers having ionic strengths of 50 to 200 mM. Inhibitors or activators or trehalase activity were not detected in extracts of spores or mycelia. Several lines of evidence indicated that trehalose and trehalase are both located in the spore cytoplasm. Spores retained their trehalose and most of their trehalase activity following brief exposure to dilute acid. Protoplasts formed by enzymatic removal of the spore walls in buffer containing high concentrations of solutes also retained their trehalose and trehalase activity. Protoplasts formed in buffer containing lower levels of solutes contained low levels of trehalose. The mechanism by which trehalose metabolism is regulated in S. griseus spores is unresolved. A low level of hydration of the cytoplasm of the dormant spores and an increased level of hydration during germination may account for the apparent inactivity of trehalase in dormant spores and the rapid hydrolysis of trehalose upon initiation of germination.

  • Penyige A, Barabás G, Szabó I, Ensign JC (1990) ADP-ribosylation of membrane proteins of Streptomyces griseus strain 52-1. FEMS Microbiol. Lett. 57(3):293-7 · Pubmed

    Membranes purified from cells of Streptomyces griseus strain 52-1 possess an ADP-ribosyltransferase activity. The enzyme transfers the ADP-ribose moiety of NAD to one major membrane protein of Mr 32,000 and 2-3 minor proteins of larger molecular weights. The effects of inhibitors on the ADP-ribosyltransferase activity proves that the reaction is enzymatic and suggests that the enzyme ADP-ribosylates the guanidine group of arginine. The kinetics of liberation of ADP-ribose during alkaline hydrolysis of the modified proteins is consistent with the arginine-ADP-ribose bond. This is the first report of ADP-ribosylation of proteins in a Gram-positive bacterium.

  • Tisa LS, Ensign JC (1988) Evidence for adenylate nucleotide transport (ATP-ADP translocation) in vesicles of Frankia sp. strain EAN1pec. J. Bacteriol. 170(7):3053-7 (PMC211248) · Pubmed

    Atractyloside and carboxyatractyloside partially inhibited nitrogenase activity (acetylene reduction) by isolated vesicles of Frankia strain EAN1pec. Extracts of disrupted vesicles showed nitrogenase activity that was not affected by the inhibitors. The vesicles accumulated ATP by an atractyloside-sensitive mechanism. This inhibition of ATP uptake was reversed when vesicles were permeabilized by detergent. Uptake of ATP was inhibited by excess ATP and ADP, but not AMP or adenosine, and by a calcium-dependent ATPase inhibitor. Uptake was stimulated by calcium ions. Accumulation of ATP was accompanied by release of ADP and AMP from the vesicles. The ATP taken up by vesicles and cells grown with N2 as the nitrogen source was found in the corresponding cell pools only as ATP. The data indicate activity of an ATP-ADP translocase system in vesicles of this organism. The role of ATP translocation in the symbiosis between Frankia strain EAN1pec and plant root nodules is discussed.

  • Tisa LS, Ensign JC (1987) Isolation and nitrogenase activity of vesicles from Frankia sp. strain EAN1pec. J. Bacteriol. 169(11):5054-9 (PMC213907) · Pubmed

    Vesicles, specialized cell structures thought to be the site of nitrogen fixation in the actinorhizal bacteria, were isolated from Frankia sp. strain EAN1pec by using French pressure disruption of mycelia followed by differential and isopycnic gradient centrifugation. The isolated vesicles reduced acetylene when incubated anaerobically with Mg2+ ions, ATP, and dithionite. No nitrogenase activity was detected in the disrupted mycelial fractions. Vesicles permeabilized by freeze-thaw or detergents showed increased rates of acetylene reduction due to increased permeability of dithionite. The effect on nitrogenase activity of different ATP concentrations was the same in normal and permeabilized vesicles. The endogenous respiratory rate of vesicles was significantly lower than that of mycelia, and the respiration rate of vesicles did not increase following the addition of succinate. The low respiratory activity of vesicles and their apparent dependence on externally supplied ATP for acetylene reduction suggest that the energy and reducing power for nitrogen fixation may be supplied from the mycelia to which they are attached.

  • McBride MJ, Ensign JC (1987) Metabolism of endogenous trehalose by Streptomyces griseus spores and by spores or cells of other actinomycetes. J. Bacteriol. 169(11):5002-7 (PMC213900) · Pubmed

    The disaccharide trehalose is accumulated as a storage product by spores of Streptomyces griseus. Nongerminating spores used their trehalose reserves slowly when incubated in buffer for several months. In contrast, spores rapidly depleted their trehalose pools during the first hours of germination. Extracts of dormant spores contained a high specific activity of the enzyme trehalase. The level of trehalase remained relatively constant during germination or incubation in buffer. Nongerminating spores of Streptomyces viridochromogenes, Streptomyces antibioticus, and Micromonospora echinospora and nongrowing spherical cells of Arthrobacter crystallopoietes and Nocardia corallina also maintained large amounts of trehalose and active trehalase. These trehalose reserves were depleted during spore germination or outgrowth of spherical Arthrobacter and Nocardia cells into rods.

  • McBride MJ, Ensign JC (1987) Effects of intracellular trehalose content on Streptomyces griseus spores. J. Bacteriol. 169(11):4995-5001 (PMC213899) · Pubmed

    The disaccharide trehalose is accumulated as a storage product by spores of Streptomyces griseus. Growth on media containing excess glucose yielded spores containing up to 25% of their dry weight as trehalose. Spores containing as little as 1% of their dry weight as trehalose were obtained during growth on media containing a limiting amount of glucose. Spores containing low levels of trehalose accumulated this sugar when incubated with glucose. The increase in trehalose content coincided with increases in spore refractility, heat resistance, desiccation resistance, and the time required for spore germination in complex media. Trehalose is accumulated by a wide variety of actinomycetes and related bacteria and may be partially responsible for their resistance properties.

  • Tisa LS, Ensign JC (1987) Formation and regeneration of protoplasts of the actinorhizal nitrogen-fixing actinomycete frankia. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 53(1):53-6 (PMC203601) · Pubmed

    Procedures for forming and regenerating protoplasts of four Frankia strains are described. Cells obtained from growth medium containing 0.1% glycine were digested with lysozyme (250 mug/ml) in a medium containing 0.5 M sucrose, 5.0 mM CaCl(2), and 5.0 mM MgCl(2). Protoplasts were formed during 15 to 120 min of digestion at 25 degrees C. Optimum conditions for protoplast regeneration involved placing protoplasts on a layer of complex growth medium containing 0.3 M sucrose, 5.0 mM CaCl(2), and 5.0 mM MgCl(2) which was overlaid with a layer of 0.8% low-melting-point agarose containing 0.5 M sucrose, 5.0 mM MgCl(2), and 5.0 mM CaCl(2). The maximum regeneration efficiency was 36.9% for strain CpI1, 1.3% for strain ACN1, 27% for strain EAN1pec, and 20% for strain EuI1c.

  • Grund AD, Ensign JC (1985) Properties of the germination inhibitor of Streptomyces viridochromogenes spores. J. Gen. Microbiol. 131(4):833-47 · Pubmed

    No abstract available.

  • Koepsel R, Ensign JC (1984) Microcycle sporulation of Streptomyces viridochromogenes. Arch. Microbiol. 140(1):9-14 · Pubmed

    No abstract available.

  • Kendrick KE, Ensign JC (1983) Sporulation of Streptomyces griseus in submerged culture. J. Bacteriol. 155(1):357-66 (PMC217688) · Pubmed

    No abstract available.