Chitin utilization by marine bacteria. A physiological function for bacterial adhesion to immobilized carbohydrates.
Chitin turnover is essential for recycling carbon and nitrogen in marine ecosystems. A key step in this process is the adhesion of marine bacteria to chitin-containing particulates. Vibrio species were therefore surveyed for their ability to bind to immobilized carbohydrates, and one, Vibrio furnissii, adhered to glycosides of three sugars, N-acetylglucosamine (the preferred ligand), D-mannose, and D-glucose. A single Ca(2+)-requiring lectin is responsible for binding to the three sugars. Cells adhering to the chitin analogue divided at the same rate as cells in liquid culture. The first progeny of adherent cells continued to bind to the beads, but the population gradually shifted to a large fraction of free swimming cells, a process that may be necessary for colonization. Metabolic energy is required for cell adhesion to the glycosides, and transient (or no) adhesion occurred in incomplete growth media. The results were explained by studying met and pro mutants. Both the initiation and maintenance of lectin-mediated adhesion requires continuous protein synthesis; expression of lectin activity is a major priority of these cells and functions under conditions adequate for minimal protein synthesis, but insufficient to support cell growth. The adhesion/deadhesion apparatus is apparently used to continuously monitor the nutrient status of the environment, i.e. as a nutrient sensorium. In incomplete medium, cells deadhere, presumably to migrate to a more favorable environment.