Bacteria communicate with one another via quorum-sensing signal molecules. This paper describes the first example of quorum-sensing molecules participating in interspecies bacterial cell death. This is an interesting observation in its own right – but think about this: these peptides potentially provide the basis for a new class of antibiotics which trigger death by acting from outside the cell.
Novel Quorum-Sensing Peptides Mediating Interspecies Bacterial Cell Death. (2013) mBio 4(3): e00314-13 doi: 10.1128/mBio.00314-13
Escherichia coli mazEF is a toxin-antitoxin stress-induced module mediating cell death. It requires the quorum-sensing signal (QS) “extracellular death factor” (EDF), the penta-peptide NNWNN (EcEDF), enhancing the endoribonucleolytic activity of E. coli toxin MazF. Here we discovered that E. coli mazEF-mediated cell death could be triggered by QS peptides from the supernatants (SN) of the Gram-positive bacterium Bacillus subtilis and the Gram-negative bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In the SN of B. subtilis, we found one EDF, the hexapeptide RGQQNE, called BsEDF. In the SN of P. aeruginosa, we found three EDFs: the nonapeptide INEQTVVTK, called PaEDF-1, and two hexadecapeptides, VEVSDDGSGGNTSLSQ, called PaEDF-2, and APKLSDGAAAGYVTKA, called PaEDF-3. When added to a diluted E. coli cultures, each of these peptides acted as an interspecies EDF that triggered mazEF-mediated death. Furthermore, though their sequences are very different, each of these EDFs amplified the endoribonucleolytic activity of E. coli MazF, probably by interacting with different sites on E. coli MazF. Finally, we suggest that EDFs may become the basis for a new class of antibiotics that trigger death from outside the bacterial cells.