Journal of Bacteriology
The Rhizobium etli CE3 O antigen is a fixed-length heteropolymer with O methylation being the predominant type of sugar modification. There are two O-methylated residues that occur, on average, once per complete O antigen: a multiply O-methylated terminal fucose and 2-O methylation of a fucose residue within a repeating unit. The amount of the methylated terminal fucose decreases and the amount of 2-O-methylfucose increases when bacteria are grown in the presence of the host plant, Phaseolus vulgaris, or its seed exudates. Insertion mutagenesis was used to identify open reading frames required for the presence of these O-methylated residues. The presence of the methylated terminal fucose required genes wreA, wreB, wreC, wreD, and wreF, whereas 2-O methylation of internal fucoses required the methyltransferase domain of bifunctional gene wreM. Mutants lacking only the methylated terminal fucose, lacking only 2-O methylation, or lacking both the methylated terminal fucose and 2-O methylation exhibited no other lipopolysaccharide structural defects. Thus, neither of these decorations is required for normal O-antigen length, transport, or assembly into the final lipopolysaccharide. This is in contrast to certain enteric bacteria in which the absence of a terminal decoration severely affects O-antigen length and transport. R. etli mutants lacking only the methylated terminal fucose were not altered in symbiosis with host Phaseolus vulgaris, whereas mutants lacking only 2-O-methylfucose exhibited a delay in nodule development during symbiosis. These results support previous conclusions that the methylated terminal fucose is dispensable for symbiosis, whereas 2-O methylation of internal fucoses somehow facilitates early events in symbiosis.