Improving the annotation of sugar catabolism-related genes requires functional characterization. Our objective was to identify the genes necessary for lactose utilization by Lactobacillus gasseri ATCC 33323 (NCK334). The mechanism of lactose transport in many lactobacilli is a lactose/galactose-specific permease, yet no orthologue was found in NCK334. Characterization of an EI knockout strain [EI (enzyme I) is required for phosphotransferase system transporter (PTS) function] demonstrated that L. gasseri requires PTS(s) to utilize lactose. In order to determine which PTS(s) were necessary for lactose utilization, we compared transcript expression profiles in response to lactose for the 15 complete PTSs identified in the NCK334 genome. PTS 6CB (LGAS_343) and PTS 8C (LGAS_497) were induced in the presence of lactose 107- and 53-fold, respectively. However, L. gasseri ATCC 33323 PTS 6CB, PTS 8C had a growth rate similar to that of the wild-type on semisynthetic deMan, Rogosa, Sharpe (MRS) medium with lactose. Expression profiles of L. gasseri ATCC 33323 PTS 6CB, PTS 8C in response to lactose identified PTS 9BC (LGAS_501) as 373-fold induced, whereas PTS 9BC was not induced in NCK334. Elimination of growth on lactose required the inactivation of both PTS 6CB and PTS 9BC. Among the six candidate phospho-β-galactosidase genes present in the NCK334 genome, LGAS_344 was found to be induced 156-fold in the presence of lactose. In conclusion, we have determined that: (1) NCK334 uses a PTS to import lactose; (2) PTS 6CB and PTS 8C gene expression is strongly induced by lactose; and (3) elimination of PTS 6CB and PTS 9BC is required to prevent growth on lactose.
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