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Phase variation in the Gram-negative human pathogen Vibrio vulnificus involves three colonial morphotypes- smooth opaque colonies due to production of capsular polysaccharide (CPS), smooth translucent colonies as the result of little or no CPS expression, and rugose colonies due to production of a separate extracellular polysaccharide (EPS), which greatly enhances biofilm formation. Previously, it was shown that the brp locus, which consists of nine genes arranged as an operon, is up-regulated in rugose strains in a c-di-GMP-dependent manner, and that plasmid insertions into the locus resulted in loss of rugosity and efficient biofilm production. Here, we have used non-polar mutagenesis to assess the involvement of individual brp genes in production of EPS and related phenotypes. Inactivation of genes predicted to be involved in various stages of EPS biosynthesis eliminated both the rugose colonial appearance and production of EPS, while knockout of a predicted flippase function involved in EPS transport resulted in a dry, lightly striated phenotype, which was associated with a reduction of brp-encoded EPS on the cell surface. All brp mutants retained the reduced motility characteristic of rugose strains. Lastly, we provide evidence that the brp locus is highly prevalent among strains of V. vulnificus. © 2014 Garrison-Schilling et al.

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