Role of the Escherichia coli nitrate transport protein, NarU, in survival during severe nutrient starvation and slow growth

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Escherichia coli K-12 strains expressing either NarU or NarK as the only nitrate transport protein are both able to support nitrate-dependent anaerobic growth. The narK gene is highly expressed during anaerobic growth in the presence of nitrate, consistent with a role for NarK in nitrate transport coupled to nitrate reduction by the most active nitrate reductase encoded by the adjacent narGHJI operon. The physiological role of NarU is unknown. Reverse transcriptase PCR experiments established that, unlike the monocistronic narK gene, narU is co-transcribed with narZ as the first gene of a five-gene narUZYWV operon. The narK and narU genes were fused in-frame to a myc tag: the encoded fusion proteins complemented the nitrate-dependent growth defect of chromosomal narK and narU mutations. A commercial anti-Myc antibody was used to detect NarK and NarU in membrane fractions. During anaerobic growth in the presence of nitrate, the quantity of NarU-Myc accumulated during exponential growth was far less than that of NarK-Myc, but NarU was more abundant than NarK in stationary-phase cultures in the absence of nitrate. Although the concentration of NarU-Myc increased considerably during the post-exponential phase of growth, NarK-Myc was still more abundant than NarU-Myc in stationary-phase bacteria in the presence of nitrate, In chemostat competition experiments, a strain expressing only narU had a selective advantage relative to a strain expressing only narK during nutrient starvation or very slow growth, but NarK(+) bacteria had a much greater selective advantage during rapid growth. The data suggest that NarU confers a selective advantage during severe nutrient starvation or slow growth, conditions similar to those encountered in vivo.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2091-2100
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2006