Bacillus subtilis antibiotics: structures, syntheses and specific functions

Molecular Microbiology
Torsten Stein

Abstract

The endospore-forming rhizobacterium Bacillus subtilis- the model system for Gram-positive organisms, is able to produce more than two dozen antibiotics with an amazing variety of structures. The produced anti-microbial active compounds include predominantly peptides that are either ribosomally synthesized and post-translationally modified (lantibiotics and lantibiotic-like peptides) or non-ribosomally generated, as well as a couple of non-peptidic compounds such as polyketides, an aminosugar, and a phospholipid. Here I summarize the structures of all known B. subtilis antibiotics, their biochemistry and genetic analysis of their biosyntheses. An updated summary of well-studied antibiotic regulation pathways is given. Furthermore, current findings are resumed that show roles for distinct B. subtilis antibiotics beyond the "pure" anti-microbial action: Non-ribosomally produced lipopeptides are involved in biofilm and swarming development, lantibiotics function as pheromones in quorum-sensing, and a "killing factor" effectuates programmed cell death in sister cells. A discussion of how these antibiotics may contribute to the survival of B. subtilis in its natural environment is given.

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