Glutamate is a central metabolite in all organisms since it provides the link between carbon and nitrogen metabolism. In Bacillus subtilis, glutamate is synthesized exclusively by the glutamate synthase, and it can be degraded by the glutamate dehydrogenase. In B. subtilis, the major glutamate dehydrogenase RocG is expressed only in the presence of arginine, and the bacteria are unable to utilize glutamate as the only carbon source. In addition to rocG, a second cryptic gene (gudB) encodes an inactive glutamate dehydrogenase. Mutations in rocG result in the rapid accumulation of gudB1 suppressor mutations that code for an active enzyme. In this work, we analyzed the physiological significance of this constellation of genes and enzymes involved in glutamate metabolism. We found that the weak expression of rocG in the absence of the inducer arginine is limiting for glutamate utilization. Moreover, we addressed the potential ability of the active glutamate dehydrogenases of B. subtilis to synthesize glutamate. Both RocG and GudB1 were unable to catalyze the anabolic reaction, most probably because of their very high K(m) values for ammonium. In contrast, the Escherichia coli glutamate dehydrogenase is able to produce glutamate even in the background of a B. subtilis cell. B. subtilis responds to any mutation that interferes with glutamate metabolism with the rapid accumulation of extragenic or intragenic suppressor mutations, bringing the glutamate supply into balance. Similarly, with the presence of a cryptic gene, the system can flexibly respond to changes in the external glutamate supply by the selection of mutations.
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