Defining early steps in Bacillus subtilis biofilm biosynthesis

Christine A. Arbour, Rupa Nagar, Hannah M. Bernstein, Soumi Ghosh, Yusra Al-Sammarraie, Helge C. Dorfmueller, Michael A. J. Ferguson, Nicola R. Stanley-Wall (Lead / Corresponding author), Barbara Imperiali (Lead / Corresponding author)

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The Bacillus subtilis extracellular biofilm matrix includes an exopolysaccharide (EPS) that is critical for the architecture and function of the community. To date, our understanding of the biosynthetic machinery and the molecular composition of the EPS of B. subtilis remains unclear and incomplete. This report presents synergistic biochemical and genetic studies built from a foundation of comparative sequence analyses targeted at elucidating the activities of the first two membrane-committed steps in the EPS biosynthetic pathway. By taking this approach, we determined the nucleotide sugar donor and lipid-linked acceptor substrates for the first two enzymes in the B. subtilis biofilm EPS biosynthetic pathway. EpsL catalyzes the first phosphoglycosyl transferase step using uridine diphosphate (UDP)-di-N-acetyl bacillosamine as phospho-sugar donor. EpsD is a predicted GT-B fold (GT4 family) retaining glycosyl transferase that catalyzes the second step in the pathway that utilizes the product of EpsL as an acceptor substrate and UDP-N-acetyl glucosamine as the sugar donor. Thus, the study defines the first two monosaccharides at the reducing end of the growing EPS unit. In doing so, we provide the first evidence of the presence of bacillosamine in an EPS synthesized by a Gram-positive bacterium. IMPORTANCE Biofilms are the communal way of life that microbes adopt to increase survival. Key to our ability to systematically promote or ablate biofilm formation is a detailed understanding of the biofilm matrix macromolecules. Here, we identify the first two essential steps in the Bacillus subtilis biofilm matrix exopolysaccharide (EPS) synthesis pathway. Together, our studies and approaches provide the foundation for the sequential characterization of the steps in EPS biosynthesis, using prior steps to enable chemoenzymatic synthesis of the undecaprenyl diphosphate-linked glycan substrates.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
Issue number5
Early online date31 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2023


  • chemoenzymatic synthesis
  • bacillosamine
  • genetic complementation
  • biofilm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology
  • Microbiology


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