Galacturonic acid (GalUA) is a major component of pectin and polygalacturonic acid in the plant cell wall. In the phytopathogen Erwinia chrysanthemi, the uptake of molecules derived from degradation of these polymers is an important early step in the events preceding induction of pectinases, ultimately leading to plant tissue maceration. Uptake systems for GalUA and dimers of GalUA have been described and shown to be inducible in E. chrysanthemi. The GalUA uptake gene (exuT) was cloned and sequenced. Nucleotide sequence analysis identified an open reading frame encoding a 345-amino-acid polypeptide with a calculated mass of 37,825 Da. This polypeptide is predicted to be an integral membrane protein based on its high nonpolar amino acid content and hydropathic profile. Localization studies with the labeled polypeptide in the T7-RNA polymerase system also suggest that ExuT is a membrane protein. This evidence is further supported by the observation of hybrid ExuT-PhoA proteins in the bacterial cytoplasmic membrane following immunoblot analysis. Northern (RNA) analysis indicated that the gene is inducible in the presence of the monomer, GalUA. A targeted mutation in the exuT gene affected the utilization of GalUA as a sole carbon source for growth. Maceration of potato tuber tissue by this mutant was delayed and reduced, when compared with the parental strain EC16.
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