Student Author(s)

Samantha G. Palace

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Microbiology and Physiological Systems; Department of Medicine

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Bacteriology | Genetics and Genomics | Genomics | Immunology and Infectious Disease | Pathogenic Microbiology


Rapid growth in deep tissue is essential to the high virulence of Yersinia pestis, causative agent of plague. To better understand the mechanisms underlying this unusual ability, we used transposon mutagenesis and high-throughput sequencing (Tn-seq) to systematically probe the Y. pestis genome for elements contributing to fitness during infection. More than a million independent insertion mutants representing nearly 200,000 unique genotypes were generated in fully virulent Y. pestis. Each mutant in the library was assayed for its ability to proliferate in vitro on rich medium and in mice following intravenous injection. Virtually all genes previously established to contribute to virulence following intravenous infection showed significant fitness defects, with the exception of genes for yersiniabactin biosynthesis, which were masked by strong intercellular complementation effects. We also identified more than 30 genes with roles in nutrient acquisition and metabolism as experiencing strong selection during infection. Many of these genes had not previously been implicated in Y. pestis virulence. We further examined the fitness defects of strains carrying mutations in two such genes-encoding a branched-chain amino acid importer (brnQ) and a glucose importer (ptsG)-both in vivo and in a novel defined synthetic growth medium with nutrient concentrations matching those in serum. Our findings suggest that diverse nutrient limitations in deep tissue play a more important role in controlling bacterial infection than has heretofore been appreciated. Because much is known about Y. pestis pathogenesis, this study also serves as a test case that assesses the ability of Tn-seq to detect virulence genes.

IMPORTANCE: Our understanding of the functions required by bacteria to grow in deep tissues is limited, in part because most growth studies of pathogenic bacteria are conducted on laboratory media that do not reflect conditions prevailing in infected animal tissues. Improving our knowledge of this aspect of bacterial biology is important as a potential pathway to the development of novel therapeutics. Yersinia pestis, the plague bacterium, is highly virulent due to its rapid dissemination and growth in deep tissues, making it a good model for discovering bacterial adaptations that promote rapid growth during infection. Using Tn-seq, a genome-wide fitness profiling technique, we identified several functions required for fitness of Y. pestis in vivo that were not previously known to be important. Most of these functions are needed to acquire or synthesize nutrients. Interference with these critical nutrient acquisition pathways may be an effective strategy for designing novel antibiotics and vaccines.

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© 2014 Palace et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license, which permits unrestricted noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

DOI of Published Version



MBio. 2014 Aug 19;5(4). pii: e01385-14. doi: 10.1128/mBio.01385-14. Link to article on publisher's site

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