The cyclic-di-GMP (c-di-GMP) second messenger exemplifies a signaling system that regulates many bacterial behaviors of key importance; among them, c-di-GMP controls the transition between motile and sessile life-styles in bacteria. Cellular c-di-GMP levels in bacteria are regulated by the opposite enzymatic activities of diguanylate cyclases and phosphodiesterases, which are proteins that have GGDEF and EAL domains, respectively. Azospirillum is a genus of plant-growth-promoting bacteria, and members of this genus have beneficial effects in many agronomically and ecologically essential plants. These bacteria also inhabit aquatic ecosystems, and have been isolated from humus-reducing habitats. Bioinformatic and structural approaches were used to identify genes predicted to encode GG[D/E]EF, EAL and GG[D/E]EF-EAL domain proteins from nine genome sequences.
The analyzed sequences revealed that the genomes of A. humicireducens SgZ-5T, A. lipoferum 4B, Azospirillum sp. B510, A. thiophilum BV-ST, A. halopraeferens DSM3675, A. oryzae A2P, and A. brasilense Sp7, Sp245 and Az39 encode for 29 to 41 of these predicted proteins. Notably, only 15 proteins were conserved in all nine genomes: eight GGDEF, three EAL and four GGDEF-EAL hybrid domain proteins, all of which corresponded to core genes in the genomes. The predicted proteins exhibited variable lengths, architectures and sensor domains. In addition, the predicted cellular localizations showed that some of the proteins to contain transmembrane domains, suggesting that these proteins are anchored to the membrane. Therefore, as reported in other soil bacteria, the Azospirillum genomes encode a large number of proteins that are likely involved in c-di-GMP metabolism. In addition, the data obtained here strongly suggest host specificity and environment specific adaptation.
Bacteria of the Azospirillum genus cope with diverse environmental conditions to survive in soil and aquatic habitats and, in certain cases, to colonize and benefit their host plant. Gaining information on the structures of proteins involved in c-di-GMP metabolism in Azospirillum appears to be an important step in determining the c-di-GMP signaling pathways, involved in the transition of a motile cell towards a biofilm life-style, as an example of microbial genome plasticity under diverse in situ environments.