Faculty & Staff

Start and Promotion Dates

  • Assistant Professor: 2015
  • Associate Professor: 2019


B.A. with Honors, Integrated Science Program, Biological Sciences: Molecular and Cell Biology, Northwestern University 1998
Ph.D. Biology, Massachusetts Institiute of Technology, 2003
Postdoctoral Research: Harvard Medical School

Areas of Study

Mechanisms of membrane-associated macromolecular transport machines

Research Overview

How do cells move one of the largest and most hydrophilic biological molecules across hydrophobic membrane barriers? This is the broad question our laboratory seeks to understand. In bacteria alone, this process is involved in the transfer of antibiotic resistance, spore formation, and proper chromosome segregation during growth. Yet, very little is known about the molecular mechanism of DNA translocation across membranes in any system, as tools to study the mechanism of DNA transporters in their biological context at the membrane have been lacking. We combine in vitro and in vivo biochemistry, microscopy, microbiology and molecular biology to study these DNA transport complexes.

DNA transport during sporulation

Proper chromosome segregation is essential for successful cell division in all organisms. Interestingly, bacterial cells often form a division septum prior to completion of DNA segregation. Sporulating Bacillus subtilis cells provide an extreme example of this phenomenon in that they must transport more than 3 Megabases of a chromosome across a division septum and into the small cellular compartment that will become the spore. SpoIIIE, a member of a large family of bacterial and archeal membrane-bound ATPases (FtsK/SpoIIIE), is required for active transport of the chromosomal DNA at the division septum during sporulation. Using quantitative fluorescence microscopy, and in vivo DNA transport assays to study the oligomeric state and transport properties of the SpoIIIE complex led to the very surprising and novel result that the DNA is transported across two membranes during sporulation. These data predict a new model for DNA transport in which the transmembrane segments of the transporter form linked DNA-conducting channels across the two lipid bilayers of the septum. This system provides a unique opportunity to tackle this interesting phenomenon using complimentary in vivo and in vitro approaches and to address issues which have significant implications for our understanding of how cells efficiently move of large nucleic acids across membranes.


Microbiology 470: Microbial Genetics & Molecular Machines
Micro 612: Prokaryotic Molecular Biology
Micro 875 Special Topics: Masters Degree Seminar

Lab Personnel

Picture of Falbel
Tanya Falbel
Associate Scientist
Picture of Finn
James Finn
Grad Student
Picture of Gromek
Kasia Gromek
Research Specialist
Picture of Lombardino
Jonathan Lombardino
Grad Student
Picture of Smith
Dom Smith
Grad Student

Research Papers

  • Smith DR, Kearns DB, Burton BM (2024) ComI inhibits transformation in Bacillus subtilis by selectively killing competent cells. Journal of bacteriology :e0041323 · Pubmed · DOI

    Many bacteria build elaborate molecular machines to import DNA via natural competence, yet this activity is often not identified until strains have been handled and domesticated in laboratory settings. For example, one of the best studied Gram-positive model organisms, Bacillus subtilis, has a poorly transformable ancestor. Transformation in the ancestral strain is inhibited by a transmembrane peptide, ComI, which is encoded on an extrachromosomal plasmid. Although ComI was shown to be necessary and sufficient to inhibit transformation when produced at high levels under an inducible promoter, the mechanism by which ComI inhibits transformation is unknown. Here, we examine the native regulation and mechanism of transformation inhibition by ComI. We find that under native regulation, ComI expression is restricted in the absence of the plasmid. In the presence of the plasmid, we find that ComI is expressed at higher levels in cells that are differentiating into a competent state. The subcellular localization of ComI, however, does not depend on any other competence proteins, and permeabilization activity is concentration-dependent. Time-lapse microscopy reveals that competent cells producing ComI are first permeabilized and then die. Based on these observations, we propose a new model for the mechanism of ComI in which response to competence activation leads to selective elimination of the competent subpopulation.

  • Zuke JD, Burton BM (2024) From isotopically labeled DNA to fluorescently labeled dynamic pili: building a mechanistic model of DNA transport to the cytoplasmic membrane. Microbiology and molecular biology reviews : MMBR 88((1)):e0012523 PMC8617508 · Pubmed · DOI

    SUMMARYNatural competence, the physiological state wherein bacteria produce proteins that mediate extracellular DNA transport into the cytosol and the subsequent recombination of DNA into the genome, is conserved across the bacterial domain. DNA must successfully translocate across formidable permeability barriers during import, including the cell membrane(s) and the cell wall, that are normally impermeable to large DNA polymers. This review will examine the mechanisms underlying DNA transport from the extracellular space to the cytoplasmic membrane. First, the challenges inherent to DNA movement through the cell periphery will be discussed to provide context for DNA transport during natural competence. The following sections will trace the development of a comprehensive model for DNA translocation to the cytoplasmic membrane, highlighting the crucial studies performed over the last century that have contributed to building contemporary DNA import models. Finally, this review will conclude by reflecting on what is still unknown about the process and the possible solutions to overcome these limitations.

  • Zuke JD, Erickson R, Hummels KR, Burton BM (2023) Visualizing dynamic competence pili and DNA capture throughout the long axis of Bacillus subtilis . Journal of bacteriology 205((9)):e0015623 PMC5010025 · Pubmed · DOI

    The first step in the process of bacterial natural transformation is DNA capture. Although long hypothesized based on genetics and functional experiments, the pilus structure responsible for initial DNA binding had not yet been visualized for Bacillus subtilis . Here, we visualize functional competence pili in Bacillus subtilis using fluorophore-conjugated maleimide labeling in conjunction with epifluorescence microscopy. In strains that produce pilin monomers within tenfold of wild-type levels, the median length of detectable pili is 300 nm. These pili are retractile and associate with DNA. The analysis of pilus distribution at the cell surface reveals that they are predominantly located along the long axis of the cell. The distribution is consistent with localization of proteins associated with subsequent transformation steps, DNA binding, and DNA translocation in the cytosol. These data suggest a distributed model for B. subtilis transformation machinery, in which initial steps of DNA capture occur throughout the long axis of the cell and subsequent steps may also occur away from the cell poles. IMPORTANCE This work provides novel visual evidence for DNA translocation across the cell wall during Bacillus subtilis natural competence, an essential step in the natural transformation process. Our data demonstrate the existence of natural competence-associated retractile pili that can bind exogenous DNA. Furthermore, we show that pilus biogenesis occurs throughout the cell long axis. These data strongly support DNA translocation occurring all along the lateral cell wall during natural competence, wherein pili are produced, bind to free DNA in the extracellular space, and finally retract to pull the bound DNA through the gap in the cell wall created during pilus biogenesis.

  • Zuke JD, Erickson R, Hummels KR, Burton BM (2023) Visualizing dynamic competence pili and DNA capture throughout the long axis of Bacillus subtilis . bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology : PMC205262 · Pubmed · DOI

    The first step in the process of bacterial natural transformation is DNA capture. Although long-hypothesized based on genetics and functional experiments, the pilus structure responsible for initial DNA-binding had not yet been visualized for Bacillus subtilis. Here, we visualize functional competence pili in Bacillus subtilis using fluorophore-conjugated maleimide labeling in conjunction with epifluorescence microscopy. In strains that produce pilin monomers within ten-fold of wild type levels, the median length of detectable pili is 300nm. These pili are retractile and associate with DNA. Analysis of pilus distribution at the cell surface reveals that they are predominantly located along the long axis of the cell. The distribution is consistent with localization of proteins associated with subsequent transformation steps, DNA-binding and DNA translocation in the cytosol. These data suggest a distributed model for B. subtilis transformation machinery, in which initial steps of DNA capture occur throughout the long axis of the cell and subsequent steps may also occur away from the cell poles.

  • Cheng YY, Chen Z, Cao X, Ross TD, Falbel TG, Burton BM, Venturelli OS (2023) Programming bacteria for multiplexed DNA detection. Nature communications 14((1)):2001 PMC8166853 · Pubmed · DOI

    DNA is a universal and programmable signal of living organisms. Here we develop cell-based DNA sensors by engineering the naturally competent bacterium Bacillus subtilis (B. subtilis) to detect specific DNA sequences in the environment. The DNA sensor strains can identify diverse bacterial species including major human pathogens with high specificity. Multiplexed detection of genomic DNA from different species in complex samples can be achieved by coupling the sensing mechanism to orthogonal fluorescent reporters. We also demonstrate that the DNA sensors can detect the presence of species in the complex samples without requiring DNA extraction. The modularity of the living cell-based DNA-sensing mechanism and simple detection procedure could enable programmable DNA sensing for a wide range of applications.

  • Cheng YY, Zhou Z, Papadopoulos JM, Zuke JD, Falbel TG, Anantharaman K, Burton BM, Venturelli OS (2023) Efficient plasmid transfer via natural competence in a microbial co-culture. Molecular systems biology 19((3)):e11406 PMC6088163 · Pubmed · DOI

    The molecular and ecological factors shaping horizontal gene transfer (HGT) via natural transformation in microbial communities are largely unknown, which is critical for understanding the emergence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. We investigate key factors shaping HGT in a microbial co-culture by quantifying extracellular DNA release, species growth, and HGT efficiency over time. In the co-culture, plasmid release and HGT efficiency are significantly enhanced than in the respective monocultures. The donor is a key determinant of HGT efficiency as plasmids induce the SOS response, enter a multimerized state, and are released in high concentrations, enabling efficient HGT. However, HGT is reduced in response to high donor lysis rates. HGT is independent of the donor viability state as both live and dead cells transfer the plasmid with high efficiency. In sum, plasmid HGT via natural transformation depends on the interplay of plasmid properties, donor stress responses and lysis rates, and interspecies interactions.

  • Lombardino J, Burton BM (2022) An electric alarm clock for spores. Science (New York, N.Y.) 378((6615)):25-26 · Pubmed · DOI

    Inactive spores integrate stimuli over time through stored electrochemical potential.

  • Foster HR, Lin X, Srikant S, Cueny RR, Falbel TG, Keck JL, Gaudet R, Burton BM (2022) Natural Transformation Protein ComFA Exhibits Single-Stranded DNA Translocase Activity. Journal of bacteriology 204((3)):e0051821 PMC8923215 · Pubmed · DOI

    Natural transformation is one of the major mechanisms of horizontal gene transfer in bacterial populations and has been demonstrated in numerous species of bacteria. Despite the prevalence of natural transformation, much of the molecular mechanism remains unexplored. One major outstanding question is how the cell powers DNA import, which is rapid and highly processive. ComFA is one of a few proteins required for natural transformation in Gram-positive bacteria. Its structural resemblance to the DEAD box helicase family has led to a long-held hypothesis that ComFA acts as a motor to help drive DNA import into the cytosol. Here, we explored the helicase and translocase activity of ComFA to address this hypothesis. We followed the DNA-dependent ATPase activity of ComFA and, combined with mathematical modeling, demonstrated that ComFA likely translocates on single-stranded DNA from 5' to 3'. However, this translocase activity does not lead to DNA unwinding under the conditions we tested. Further, we analyzed the ATPase cycle of ComFA and found that ATP hydrolysis stimulates the release of DNA, providing a potential mechanism for translocation. These findings help define the molecular contribution of ComFA to natural transformation and support the conclusion that ComFA plays a key role in powering DNA uptake. IMPORTANCE Competence, or the ability of bacteria to take up and incorporate foreign DNA in a process called natural transformation, is common in the bacterial kingdom. Research in several bacterial species suggests that long, contiguous stretches of DNA are imported into cells in a processive manner, but how bacteria power transformation remains unclear. Our finding that ComFA, a DEAD box helicase required for competence in Gram-positive bacteria, translocates on single-stranded DNA from 5' to 3', supports the long-held hypothesis that ComFA may be the motor powering DNA transport during natural transformation. Moreover, ComFA may be a previously unidentified type of DEAD box helicase-one with the capability of extended translocation on single-stranded DNA.

  • Stork DA, Squyres GR, Kuru E, Gromek KA, Rittichier J, Jog A, Burton BM, Church GM, Garner EC, Kunjapur AM (2021) Designing efficient genetic code expansion in Bacillus subtilis to gain biological insights. Nature communications 12((1)):5429 PMC8440579 · Pubmed · DOI

    Bacillus subtilis is a model gram-positive bacterium, commonly used to explore questions across bacterial cell biology and for industrial uses. To enable greater understanding and control of proteins in B. subtilis, here we report broad and efficient genetic code expansion in B. subtilis by incorporating 20 distinct non-standard amino acids within proteins using 3 different families of genetic code expansion systems and two choices of codons. We use these systems to achieve click-labelling, photo-crosslinking, and translational titration. These tools allow us to demonstrate differences between E. coli and B. subtilis stop codon suppression, validate a predicted protein-protein binding interface, and begin to interrogate properties underlying bacterial cytokinesis by precisely modulating cell division dynamics in vivo. We expect that the establishment of this simple and easily accessible chemical biology system in B. subtilis will help uncover an abundance of biological insights and aid genetic code expansion in other organisms.

  • Phillips AM, Sanchez S, Sysoeva TA, Burton BM, Kearns DB (2021) Molecular and Cell Biological Analysis of SwrB in Bacillus subtilis. Journal of bacteriology 203((17)):e0022721 PMC8351640 · Pubmed · DOI

    Swarming motility is flagellum-mediated movement over a solid surface, and Bacillus subtilis cells require an increase in flagellar density to swarm. SwrB is a protein of unknown function required for swarming that is necessary to increase the number of flagellar hooks but not basal bodies. Previous work suggested that SwrB activates flagellar type III secretion, but the mechanism by which it might perform this function is unknown. Here, we show that SwrB likely acts substoichiometrically as it localizes as puncta at the membrane in numbers fewer than those of flagellar basal bodies. Moreover, the action of SwrB is likely transient as puncta of SwrB were not dependent on the presence of the basal bodies and rarely colocalized with flagellar hooks. Random mutagenesis of the SwrB sequence found that a histidine within the transmembrane segment was conditionally required for activity and punctate localization. Finally, three hydrophobic residues that precede a cytoplasmic domain of poor conservation abolished SwrB activity when mutated and caused aberrant migration during electrophoresis. Our data are consistent with a model in which SwrB interacts with the flagellum, changes conformation to activate type III secretion, and departs. IMPORTANCE Type III secretion systems (T3SSs) are elaborate nanomachines that form the core of the bacterial flagellum and injectisome of pathogens. The machines not only secrete proteins like virulence factors but also secrete the structural components for their own assembly. Moreover, proper construction requires complex regulation to ensure that the parts are roughly secreted in the order in which they are assembled. Here, we explore a poorly understood activator of the flagellar T3SS activation in Bacillus subtilis called SwrB. To aid mechanistic understanding, we determine the rules for subcellular punctate localization, the topology with respect to the membrane, and critical residues required for SwrB function.

  • Dragoš A, Priyadarshini B, Hasan Z, Strube ML, Kempen PJ, Maróti G, Kaspar C, Bose B, Burton BM, Bischofs IB, Kovács ÁT (2020) Pervasive prophage recombination occurs during evolution of spore-forming Bacilli. The ISME journal 15((5)):1344-1358 PMC8115142 · Pubmed · DOI

    Phages are the main source of within-species bacterial diversity and drivers of horizontal gene transfer, but we know little about the mechanisms that drive genetic diversity of these mobile genetic elements (MGEs). Recently, we showed that a sporulation selection regime promotes evolutionary changes within SPβ prophage of Bacillus subtilis, leading to direct antagonistic interactions within the population. Herein, we reveal that under a sporulation selection regime, SPβ recombines with low copy number phi3Ts phage DNA present within the B. subtilis population. Recombination results in a new prophage occupying a different integration site, as well as the spontaneous release of virulent phage hybrids. Analysis of Bacillus sp. strains suggests that SPβ and phi3T belong to a distinct cluster of unusually large phages inserted into sporulation-related genes that are equipped with a spore-related genetic arsenal. Comparison of Bacillus sp. genomes indicates that similar diversification of SPβ-like phages takes place in nature. Our work is a stepping stone toward empirical studies on phage evolution, and understanding the eco-evolutionary relationships between bacteria and their phages. By capturing the first steps of new phage evolution, we reveal striking relationship between survival strategy of bacteria and evolution of their phages.

  • Radzinski NP, Besprozvannaya M, McLean EL, Talwalkar A, Burton BM (2019) DNA-Membrane Anchor Facilitates Efficient Chromosome Translocation at a Distance in Bacillus subtilis. mBio 10((3)): PMC6593407 · Pubmed · DOI

    Chromosome segregation in sporulating Bacillus subtilis involves the tethering of sister chromosomes at opposite cell poles. RacA is known to mediate chromosome tethering by interacting with both centromere-like elements in the DNA and with DivIVA, a membrane protein which localizes to the cell poles. RacA has a secondary function in which it assists in nucleoid condensation. Here we demonstrate that, in addition to positioning and condensing the chromosome, RacA contributes to efficient transport of DNA by the chromosome segregation motor SpoIIIE. When RacA is deleted, one-quarter of cells fail to capture DNA in the nascent spore, yet 70% of cells fail to form viable spores without RacA. This discrepancy indicates that RacA possesses a role in sporulation beyond DNA capture and condensation. We observed that the mutant cells had reduced chromosome translocation into the forespore across the entire length of the chromosome, requiring nearly twice as much time to move a given DNA locus. Additionally, functional abolition of the RacA-DivIVA interaction reduced translocation to a similar degree as in a racA deletion strain, demonstrating the importance of the RacA-mediated tether in translocation and chromosome packaging during sporulation. We propose that the DNA-membrane anchor facilitates efficient translocation by SpoIIIE, not through direct protein-protein contacts but by virtue of physical effects on the chromosome that arise from anchoring DNA at a distance. IMPORTANCE To properly segregate their chromosomes, organisms tightly regulate the organization and dynamics of their DNA. Aspects of the process by which DNA is translocated during sporulation are not yet fully understood, such as what factors indirectly influence the activity of the motor protein SpoIIIE. In this work, we have shown that a DNA-membrane tether mediated by RacA contributes to the activity of SpoIIIE. Loss of RacA nearly doubles the time of translocation, despite the physically distinct locations these proteins and their activities occupy within the cell. This is a rare example of an explicit effect that DNA-membrane connections can have on cell physiology and demonstrates that distant changes to the state of the chromosome can influence motor proteins which act upon it.

  • Loyo CL, Burton BM (2018) Quantitative Transformation Efficiency Assay for Bacillus subtilis . Bio-protocol 8((23)):e3109 PMC8342084 · Pubmed · DOI

    No abstract available.

  • Diallo A, Foster HR, Gromek KA, Perry TN, Dujeancourt A, Krasteva PV, Gubellini F, Falbel TG, Burton BM, Fronzes R (2017) Bacterial transformation: ComFA is a DNA-dependent ATPase that forms complexes with ComFC and DprA. Molecular microbiology 105((5)):741-754 · Pubmed · DOI

    No abstract available.

  • Chilton SS, Falbel TG, Hromada S, Burton BM (2017) A Conserved Metal Binding Motif in the Bacillus subtilis Competence Protein ComFA Enhances Transformation. Journal of bacteriology 199((15)): PMC5512226 · Pubmed · DOI

    No abstract available.

  • Sysoeva TA, Burton BM (2016) Bacterial secretion: A new front for intermicrobial wars. Nat Microbiol 2:16254 · Pubmed

    No abstract available.

  • Bose B, Reed SE, Besprozvannaya M, Burton, BM (2016) Missense Mutations Allow a Sequence-Blind Mutant of SpoIIIE to Successfully Translocate Chromosomes during Sporulation PLoS ONE 11(2):1-18 · Pubmed · DOI

    SpoIIIE directionally pumps DNA across membranes during Bacillus subtilis sporulation and vegetative growth. The sequence-reading domain (γ domain) is required for directional DNA transport, and its deletion severely impairs sporulation. We selected suppressors of the spoIIIEΔγ sporulation defect. Unexpectedly, many suppressors were intragenic missense mutants, and some restore sporulation to near-wild-type levels. The mutant proteins are likely not more abundant, faster at translocating DNA, or sequence-sensitive, and rescue does not involve the SpoIIIE homolog SftA. Some mutants behave differently when co-expressed with spoIIIEΔγ, consistent with the idea that some, but not all, variants may form mixed oligomers. In full-length spoIIIE, these mutations do not affect sporulation, and yet the corresponding residues are rarely found in other SpoIIIE/FtsK family members. The suppressors do not rescue chromosome translocation defects during vegetative growth, indicating that the role of the γ domain cannot be fully replaced by these mutations. We present two models consistent with our findings: that the suppressors commit to transport in one arbitrarily-determined direction or delay spore development. It is surprising that missense mutations somehow rescue loss of an entire domain with a complex function, and this raises new questions about the mechanism by which SpoIIIE pumps DNA and the roles SpoIIIE plays in vivo.

  • Ramsdell TL, Huppert LA, Sysoeva TA, Fortune SM, Burton BM (2015) Linked domain architectures allow for specialization of function in the FtsK/SpoIIIE ATPases of ESX secretion systems. J. Mol. Biol. 427(5):1119-32 (PMC4277743) · Pubmed

    Among protein secretion systems, there are specialized ATPases that serve different functions such as substrate recognition, substrate unfolding, and assembly of the secretory machinery. ESX (early secretory antigen target 6 kDa secretion) protein secretion systems require FtsK/SpoIIIE family ATPases but the specific function of these ATPases is poorly understood. The ATPases of ESX secretion systems have a unique domain architecture among proteins of the FtsK/SpoIIIE family. All well-studied FtsK family ATPases to date have one ATPase domain and oligomerize to form a functional molecular machine, most commonly a hexameric ring. In contrast, the ESX ATPases have three ATPase domains, encoded either by a single gene or by two operonic genes. It is currently unknown which of the ATPase domains is catalytically functional and whether each domain plays the same or a different function. Here we focus on the ATPases of two ESX systems, the ESX-1 system of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and the yuk system of Bacillus subtilis. We show that ATP hydrolysis by the ESX ATPase is required for secretion, suggesting that this enzyme at least partly fuels protein translocation. We further show that individual ATPase domains play distinct roles in substrate translocation and complex formation. Comparing the single-chain and split ESX ATPases, we reveal differences in the requirements of these unique secretory ATPases.

  • Sysoeva TA, Bane LB, Xiao DY, Bose B, Chilton SS, Gaudet R, Burton BM (2014) Structural characterization of the late competence protein ComFB from Bacillus subtilis. Biosci. Rep. : (PMC4381287) · Pubmed

    Many bacteria take up DNA from their environment as part of the process of natural transformation. DNA uptake allows microorganisms to gain genetic diversity and can lead to the spread of antibiotic resistance or virulence genes within a microbial population. Development of genetic competence (Com) in Bacillus subtilis is a highly regulated process that culminates in expression of several late competence genes and formation of the DNA uptake apparatus. The late competence operon comF encodes a small protein of unknown function, ComFB. To gain insight into the function of ComFB, we determined its three-dimensional structure via X-ray crystallography. ComFB is a dimer, and each subunit consists of four α-helices connected by short loops and one extended β-strand-like stretch. Each subunit contains one zinc-binding site formed by four cysteines, which are unusually spaced in the primary sequence. Using structure- and bioinformatics-guided substitutions we analyzed the intersubunit interface of the ComFB dimer. Based on these analyses, we conclude that ComFB is an obligate dimer. We also characterized ComFB in vivo and found that this protein is produced in competent cells and is localized to the cytosol. Consistent with previous reports, we showed that deletion of ComFB does not affect DNA uptake function. Combining our results, we conclude that ComFB is unlikely to be a part of the DNA uptake machinery under tested conditions and instead may have a regulatory function.

  • Besprozvannaya M, Burton BM (2014) Do the same traffic rules apply? Directional chromosome segregation by SpoIIIE and FtsK. Mol. Microbiol. 93(4):599-608 · Pubmed

    Over a decade of studies have tackled the question of how FtsK/SpoIIIE translocases establish and maintain directional DNA translocation during chromosome segregation in bacteria. FtsK/SpoIIIE translocases move DNA in a highly processive, directional manner, where directionality is facilitated by sequences on the substrate DNA molecules that are being transported. In recent years, structural, biochemical, single-molecule and high-resolution microscopic studies have provided new insight into the mechanistic details of directional DNA segregation. Out of this body of work, a series of models have emerged and, ultimately, yielded two seemingly opposing models: the loading model and the target search model. We review these recent mechanistic insights into directional DNA movement and discuss the data that may serve to unite these suggested models, as well as propose future directions that may ultimately solve the debate.

  • Besprozvannaya M, Pivorunas VL, Burton BM (2014) Mechanistic study of classical translocation-dead SpoIIIE36 reveals the functional importance of the hinge within the SpoIIIE motor. J. Bacteriol. 196(13):2481-90 (PMC4054170) · Pubmed

    SpoIIIE/FtsK ATPases are central players in bacterial chromosome segregation. It remains unclear how these DNA translocases harness chemical energy (ATP turnover) to perform mechanical work (DNA movement). Bacillus subtilis sporulation provides a dramatic example of intercompartmental DNA transport, in which SpoIIIE moves 70% of the chromosome across the division plane. To understand the mechanistic requirements for DNA translocation, we investigated the DNA translocation defect of a classical nontranslocating allele, spoIIIE36. We found that the translocation phenotype is caused by a single substitution, a change of valine to methionine at position 429 (V429M), within the motor of SpoIIIE. This substitution is located at the base of a hinge between the RecA-like β domain and the α domain, which is a domain unique to the SpoIIIE/FtsK family and currently has no known function. V429M interferes with both protein-DNA interactions and oligomer assembly. These mechanistic defects disrupt coordination between ATP turnover and DNA interaction, effectively uncoupling ATP hydrolysis from DNA movement. Our data provide the first functional evidence for the importance of the hinge in DNA translocation.

  • Sysoeva TA, Zepeda-Rivera MA, Huppert LA, Burton BM (2014) Dimer recognition and secretion by the ESX secretion system in Bacillus subtilis. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 111(21):7653-8 (PMC4040557) · Pubmed

    Protein secretion typically involves translocation of unfolded polypeptides or transport of monomeric folded proteins. Here we provide, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for secretion of an intact multimeric complex requiring a signal formed by both members of the complex. Using systematic mutagenesis of a substrate involved in early secretory antigen 6 kDa (ESX) secretion in Bacillus subtilis, we demonstrate that export of the substrate requires two independent motifs. Using mixed dimers, we show that these motifs must form a composite secretion signal in which one motif is contributed by each subunit of the dimer. Finally, through targeted crosslinking we show that the dimer formed in the cell is likely secreted as a single unit. We discuss implications of this substrate recognition mechanism for the biogenesis and quality control of secretion substrates and describe its likely conservation across ESX systems.

  • Huppert LA, Ramsdell TL, Chase MR, Sarracino DA, Fortune SM, Burton BM (2014) The ESX system in Bacillus subtilis mediates protein secretion. PLoS ONE 9(5):e96267 (PMC4010439) · Pubmed

    Esat-6 protein secretion systems (ESX or Ess) are required for the virulence of several human pathogens, most notably Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Staphylococcus aureus. These secretion systems are defined by a conserved FtsK/SpoIIIE family ATPase and one or more WXG100 family secreted substrates. Gene clusters coding for ESX systems have been identified amongst many organisms including the highly tractable model system, Bacillus subtilis. In this study, we demonstrate that the B. subtilis yuk/yue locus codes for a nonessential ESX secretion system. We develop a functional secretion assay to demonstrate that each of the locus gene products is specifically required for secretion of the WXG100 virulence factor homolog, YukE. We then employ an unbiased approach to search for additional secreted substrates. By quantitative profiling of culture supernatants, we find that YukE may be the sole substrate that depends on the FtsK/SpoIIIE family ATPase for secretion. We discuss potential functional implications for secretion of a unique substrate.

  • Besprozvannaya M, Pivorunas VL, Feldman Z, Burton BM (2013) SpoIIIE protein achieves directional DNA translocation through allosteric regulation of ATPase activity by an accessory domain. J. Biol. Chem. 288(40):28962-74 (PMC3789994) · Pubmed

    Bacterial chromosome segregation utilizes highly conserved directional translocases of the SpoIIIE/FtsK family. These proteins employ an accessory DNA-binding domain (γ) to dictate directionality of DNA transport. It remains unclear how the interaction of γ with specific recognition sequences coordinates directional DNA translocation. We demonstrate that the γ domain of SpoIIIE inhibits ATPase activity of the motor domain in the absence of DNA but stimulates ATPase activity through sequence-specific DNA recognition. Furthermore, we observe that communication between γ subunits is necessary for both regulatory roles. Consistent with these findings, the γ domain is necessary for robust DNA transport along the length of the chromosome in vivo. Together, our data reveal that directional activation involves allosteric regulation of ATP turnover through coordinated action of γ domains. Thus, we propose a coordinated stimulation model in which γ-γ communication is required to translate DNA sequence information from each γ to its respective motor domain.

  • Doan T, Coleman J, Marquis KA, Meeske AJ, Burton BM, Karatekin E, Rudner DZ (2013) FisB mediates membrane fission during sporulation in Bacillus subtilis. Genes Dev. 27(3):322-34 (PMC3576517) · Pubmed

    How bacteria catalyze membrane fission during growth and differentiation is an outstanding question in prokaryotic cell biology. Here, we describe a protein (FisB, for fission protein B) that mediates membrane fission during the morphological process of spore formation in Bacillus subtilis. Sporulating cells divide asymmetrically, generating a large mother cell and smaller forespore. After division, the mother cell membranes migrate around the forespore in a phagocytic-like process called engulfment. Membrane fission releases the forespore into the mother cell cytoplasm. Cells lacking FisB are severely and specifically impaired in the fission reaction. Moreover, GFP-FisB forms dynamic foci that become immobilized at the site of fission. Purified FisB catalyzes lipid mixing in vitro and is only required in one of the fusing membranes, suggesting that FisB-lipid interactions drive membrane remodeling. Consistent with this idea, the extracytoplasmic domain of FisB binds with remarkable specificity to cardiolipin, a lipid enriched in the engulfing membranes and regions of negative curvature. We propose that membrane topology at the final stage of engulfment and FisB-cardiolipin interactions ensure that the mother cell membranes are severed at the right time and place. The unique properties of FisB set it apart from the known fission machineries in eukaryotes, suggesting that it represents a new class of fission proteins.

  • Burton B, Dubnau D (2010) Membrane-associated DNA transport machines Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2(7): PMC2890206 · Pubmed · DOI

    DNA pumps play important roles in bacteria during cell division and during the transfer of genetic material by conjugation and transformation. The FtsK/SpoIIIE proteins carry out the translocation of double-stranded DNA to ensure complete chromosome segregation during cell division. In contrast, the complex molecular machines that mediate conjugation and genetic transformation drive the transport of single stranded DNA. The transformation machine also processes this internalized DNA and mediates its recombination with the resident chromosome during and after uptake, whereas the conjugation apparatus processes DNA before transfer. This article reviews these three types of DNA pumps, with attention to what is understood of their molecular mechanisms, their energetics and their cellular localizations.

  • Marquis KA, Burton BM, Nollmann M, Ptacin JL, Bustamante C, Ben-Yehuda S, Rudner DZ (2008) SpoIIIE strips proteins off the DNA during chromosome translocation. Genes Dev. 22(13):1786-95 (PMC2492665) · Pubmed

    The FtsK/SpoIIIE family of DNA transporters are responsible for translocating missegregated chromosomes after the completion of cell division. An extreme example of this post-cytokinetic DNA segregation occurs during spore formation in the bacterium Bacillus subtilis, where SpoIIIE pumps three-quarters of the chromosome (>3 megabases) into one of the two daughter cells. Here, we investigate the fate of the proteins associated with the translocated DNA. Taking advantage of several unique features of Bacillus sporulation, we demonstrate that RNA polymerase, transcription factors, and chromosome remodeling proteins are stripped off the DNA during translocation of the chromosome into the forespore compartment. Furthermore, we show that in vitro the soluble ATPase domain of SpoIIIE can displace RNA polymerase bound to DNA, suggesting that SpoIIIE alone is capable of this wire-stripping activity. Our data suggest that the bulk of the forespore chromosome is translocated naked into the forespore compartment. We propose that the translocation-stripping activity of SpoIIIE plays a key role in reprogramming developmental gene expression in the forespore.

  • Burton BM, Marquis KA, Sullivan NL, Rapoport TA, Rudner DZ (2007) The ATPase SpoIIIE transports DNA across fused septal membranes during sporulation in Bacillus subtilis. Cell 131(7):1301-12 (PMC2913279) · Pubmed

    The FtsK/SpoIIIE family of ATP-dependent DNA transporters mediates proper chromosome segregation in dividing bacteria. In sporulating Bacillus subtilis cells, SpoIIIE translocates much of the circular chromosome from the mother cell into the forespore, but the molecular mechanism remains unclear. Using a new assay to monitor DNA transport, we demonstrate that the two arms of the chromosome are simultaneously pumped into the forespore. Up to 70 molecules of SpoIIIE are recruited to the site of DNA translocation and assemble into complexes that could contain 12 subunits. The fusion of the septal membranes during cytokinesis precedes DNA translocation and does not require SpoIIIE, as suggested by analysis of lipid dynamics, serial thin-section electron microscopy, and cell separation by protoplasting. These data support a model for DNA transport in which the transmembrane segments of FtsK/SpoIIIE form linked DNA-conducting channels across the two lipid bilayers of the septum.

  • Burton BM, Baker TA (2005) Remodeling protein complexes: insights from the AAA+ unfoldase ClpX and Mu transposase. Protein Sci. 14(8):1945-54 (PMC2279306) · Pubmed

    Multiprotein complexes in the cell are dynamic entities that are constantly undergoing changes in subunit composition and conformation to carry out their functions. The protein-DNA complex that promotes recombination of the bacteriophage Mu is a prime example of a complex that must undergo specific changes to carry out its function. The Clp/Hsp100 family of AAA+ ATPases plays a critical role in mediating such changes. The Clp/Hsp100 unfolding enzymes have been extensively studied for the roles they play in protein degradation. However, degradation is not the only fate for proteins that come in contact with the ATP-dependent unfolding enzymes. The Clp/Hsp100 enzymes induce structural changes in their substrates. These structural changes, which we refer to as "remodeling", ultimately change the biological activity of the substrate. These biological changes include activation, inactivation (not associated with degradation), and relocation within the cell. Analysis of the interaction between Escherichia coli ClpX unfoldase and the Mu recombination complex, has provided molecular insight into the mechanisms of protein remodeling. We discuss the key mechanistic features of the remodeling reactions promoted by ClpX and possible implications of these findings for other biological reactions.

  • Sauer RT, Bolon DN, Burton BM, Burton RE, Flynn JM, Grant RA, Hersch GL, Joshi SA, Kenniston JA, Levchenko I, Neher SB, Oakes ES, Siddiqui SM, Wah DA, Baker TA (2004) Sculpting the proteome with AAA(+) proteases and disassembly machines. Cell 119(1):9-18 (PMC2717008) · Pubmed

    Machines of protein destruction-including energy-dependent proteases and disassembly chaperones of the AAA(+) ATPase family-function in all kingdoms of life to sculpt the cellular proteome, ensuring that unnecessary and dangerous proteins are eliminated and biological responses to environmental change are rapidly and properly regulated. Exciting progress has been made in understanding how AAA(+) machines recognize specific proteins as targets and then carry out ATP-dependent dismantling of the tertiary and/or quaternary structure of these molecules during the processes of protein degradation and the disassembly of macromolecular complexes.

  • Burton BM, Baker TA (2003) Mu transpososome architecture ensures that unfolding by ClpX or proteolysis by ClpXP remodels but does not destroy the complex. Chem. Biol. 10(5):463-72 · Pubmed

    The Clp/Hsp100 ATPases are protein unfoldases that both alter protein conformation and target proteins for degradation. An unresolved question has been how such seemingly destructive enzymes can "remodel" some protein substrates rather than destroy them. Here, we investigate the products of ClpX-mediated remodeling of a hyper-stable protein-DNA complex, the Mu transpososome. We find that although an oligomeric complex is maintained, release of some subunits accompanies ClpX action. Replacement of transposase's endogenous ClpX-recognition sequence with an exogenous signal reveals that the mechanism of remodeling is independent of both the recognition signal and the identity of the unfoldase. Finally, examination of the transposase-DNA contacts reveals only a localized region that is altered during remodeling. These results provide a framework for protein remodeling, wherein the physical attributes of a complex can limit the unfolding activity of its remodeler.

  • Burton BM, Williams TL, Baker TA (2001) ClpX-mediated remodeling of mu transpososomes: selective unfolding of subunits destabilizes the entire complex. Mol. Cell 8(2):449-54 · Pubmed

    E. coli ClpX, a member of the Clp/Hsp100 family of ATPases, remodels multicomponent complexes and facilitates ATP-dependent degradation. Here, we analyze the mechanism by which ClpX destabilizes the exceedingly stable Mu transpososome, a natural substrate for remodeling rather than degradation. We find that ClpX has the capacity to globally unfold transposase monomers, the building blocks of the transpososome. A biochemical probe for protein unfolding reveals that ClpX also unfolds MuA subunits during remodeling reactions, but that not all subunits have their structure extensively modified. In fact, direct recognition and unfolding of a single transposase subunit are sufficient for ClpX to destabilize the entire transpososome. Thus, the ability of ClpX to unfold proteins is sufficient to explain its role in both complex destabilization and ATP-dependent proteolysis.

  • Sutton MD, Farrow MF, Burton BM, Walker GC (2001) Genetic interactions between the Escherichia coli umuDC gene products and the beta processivity clamp of the replicative DNA polymerase. J. Bacteriol. 183(9):2897-909 (PMC99508) · Pubmed

    The Escherichia coli umuDC gene products encode DNA polymerase V, which participates in both translesion DNA synthesis (TLS) and a DNA damage checkpoint control. These two temporally distinct roles of the umuDC gene products are regulated by RecA-single-stranded DNA-facilitated self-cleavage of UmuD (which participates in the checkpoint control) to yield UmuD' (which enables TLS). In addition, even modest overexpression of the umuDC gene products leads to a cold-sensitive growth phenotype, apparently due to the inappropriate expression of the DNA damage checkpoint control activity of UmuD(2)C. We have previously reported that overexpression of the epsilon proofreading subunit of DNA polymerase III suppresses umuDC-mediated cold sensitivity, suggesting that interaction of epsilon with UmuD(2)C is important for the DNA damage checkpoint control function of the umuDC gene products. Here, we report that overexpression of the beta processivity clamp of the E. coli replicative DNA polymerase (encoded by the dnaN gene) not only exacerbates the cold sensitivity conferred by elevated levels of the umuDC gene products but, in addition, confers a severe cold-sensitive phenotype upon a strain expressing moderately elevated levels of the umuD'C gene products. Such a strain is not otherwise normally cold sensitive. To identify mutant beta proteins possibly deficient for physical interactions with the umuDC gene products, we selected for novel dnaN alleles unable to confer a cold-sensitive growth phenotype upon a umuD'C-overexpressing strain. In all, we identified 75 dnaN alleles, 62 of which either reduced the expression of beta or prematurely truncated its synthesis, while the remaining alleles defined eight unique missense mutations of dnaN. Each of the dnaN missense mutations retained at least a partial ability to function in chromosomal DNA replication in vivo. In addition, these eight dnaN alleles were also unable to exacerbate the cold sensitivity conferred by modestly elevated levels of the umuDC gene products, suggesting that the interactions between UmuD' and beta are a subset of those between UmuD and beta. Taken together, these findings suggest that interaction of beta with UmuD(2)C is important for the DNA damage checkpoint function of the umuDC gene products. Four possible models for how interactions of UmuD(2)C with the epsilon and the beta subunits of DNA polymerase III might help to regulate DNA replication in response to DNA damage are discussed.

  • Kim YI, Burton RE, Burton BM, Sauer RT, Baker TA (2000) Dynamics of substrate denaturation and translocation by the ClpXP degradation machine. Mol. Cell 5(4):639-48 · Pubmed

    ClpXP is a protein machine composed of the ClpX ATPase, a member of the Clp/Hsp100 family of remodeling enzymes, and the ClpP peptidase. Here, ClpX and ClpXP are shown to catalyze denaturation of GFP modified with an ssrA degradation tag. ClpX translocates this denatured protein into the proteolytic chamber of ClpP and, when proteolysis is blocked, also catalyzes release of denatured GFP-ssrA from ClpP in a reaction that requires ATP and additional substrate. Kinetic experiments reveal that multiple reaction steps require collaboration between ClpX and ClpP and that denaturation is the rate-determining step in degradation. These insights into the mechanism of ClpXP explain how it executes efficient degradation in a manner that is highly specific for tagged proteins, irrespective of their intrinsic stabilities.

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    No abstract available.