Product(s) used in this publication: Custom Peptide Synthesis
Here we show that S. suis, a major bacterial pathogen of pigs and emerging pathogen in humans responds to a peptide pheromone by developing competence for DNA transformation. This species does not fall within any of the phylogenetic clusters of streptococci previously shown to regulate competence via peptide pheromones suggesting that more species of streptococci may be naturally competent. Induction of competence was dependent on ComX, a sigma factor that controls the streptococcal late competence regulon, extracellular addition of a comX-inducing peptide (XIP), and ComR, a regulator of comX. XIP was identified as an N-terminally truncated variant of ComS. Different comS alleles are present among strains of S. suis. These comS alleles are not functionally equivalent and appear to operate in conjuction with a cognate ComR to regulate comX through a conserved comR-box promoter. We demonstrate that these 'pherotypes' can be genetically transferred between strains, suggesting that similar approaches might be used to control competence induction in other lactic acid bacteria that lack ComR/ComS homologues but possess comX and the late competence regulon. The approaches described in this paper to identify and optimize peptide-induced competence may also assist other researchers wishing to identify natural competence in other bacteria. Harnessing natural competence is expected to accelerate genetic research on this and other important streptococcal pathogens and to allow high-throughput mutation approaches to be implemented, opening up new avenues for research.