Guanosine 3',5'-bispyrophosphate (ppGpp), also known as "magic spot," has been shown to bind prokaryotic RNA polymerase to down-regulate ribosome production and increase transcription of amino acid biosynthesis genes during the stringent response to amino acid starvation. Because many environmental growth perturbations cause ppGpp to accumulate, we hypothesize ppGpp to have an overarching role in regulating the genetic program that coordinates transitions between logarithmic growth (feast) and growth arrest (famine). We used the classic glucose-lactose diauxie as an experimental system to investigate the temporal changes in transcription that accompany growth arrest and recovery in wild-type Escherichia coli and in mutants that lack RelA (ppGpp synthetase) and other global regulators, i.e., RpoS and Crp. In particular, diauxie was delayed in the relA mutant and was accompanied by a 15% decrease in the number of carbon sources used and a 3-fold overall decrease in the induction of RpoS and Crp regulon genes. Thus the data significantly expand the previously known role of ppGpp and support a model wherein the ppGpp-dependent redistribution of RNA polymerase across the genome is the driving force behind control of the stringent response, general stress response, and starvation-induced carbon scavenging. Our conceptual model of diauxie describes these global control circuits as dynamic, interconnected, and dependent upon ppGpp for the efficient temporal coordination of gene expression that programs the cell for transitions between feast and famine.
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