The role of quorum sensing in chitin biodegradation
The 1011 ton global annual turnover of chitin has generated extensive interest in the regulation of chitin processing enzyme production in bacteria. Some bacteria regulate chitinase production by N-Acyl-L-homoserine lactone (AHL) mediated quorum sensing. In this study, a description of bacterial community succession during chitin particle colonisation and depolymerisation in activated sludge is presented. It was discovered that Betaproteobacteria and Bacteroidetes lineages dominate chitin colonisation in sludge and that AHLs bind to chitin at concentrations that upregulate AHL dependent transcription in bacterial cells associated with the chitin surface. There was no requirement for high cell density (a quorum) at the chitin surface. Further, N-Acetyl glucosamine (GlcNAc), the monomer of the chitin polymer, is shown to inhibit AHL dependent gene transcription representing a previously unrecognised mechanism by which the chitinase reaction product negatively regulates chitinase production. Evidence is presented supporting a role for both competitive inhibition at the AHL binding site of LuxR type transcriptional regulators and catabolite repression. The quorum sensing inhibitor activity of GlcNAc adds to its list of possible therapeutic benefits.