Optogenetics in Sinorhizobium meliloti Enables Spatial Control of Exopolysaccharide Production and Biofilm Structure.
Abstract: Microorganisms play a vital role in shaping the soil environment and enhancing plant growth by interacting with plant root systems. Because of the vast diversity of cell types involved, combined with dynamic and spatial heterogeneity, identifying the causal contribution of a defined factor, such as a microbial exopolysaccharide (EPS), remains elusive. Synthetic approaches that enable orthogonal control of microbial pathways are a promising means to dissect such complexity. Here we report the implementation of a synthetic, light-activated, transcriptional control platform using the blue-light responsive DNA binding protein EL222 in the nitrogen fixing soil bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti. By fine-tuning the system, we successfully achieved optical control of an EPS production pathway without significant basal expression under noninducing (dark) conditions. Optical control of EPS recapitulated important behaviors such as a mucoid plate phenotype and formation of structured biofilms, enabling spatial control of biofilm structures in S. meliloti. The successful implementation of optically controlled gene expression in S. meliloti enables systematic investigation of how genotype and microenvironmental factors together shape phenotype in situ.