Biosynthesis of diaminopimelate, the precursor of lysine and a component of peptidoglycan, is an essential function of Mycobacterium smegmatis

Martin S. Pavelka, William R. Jacobs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 Scopus citations


Diaminopimelate (DAP) is a unique metabolite used for both the biosynthesis of lysine in bacteria and the construction of the peptidoglycan of many species of bacteria, including mycobacteria. DAP is synthesized by bacteria as part of the aspartate amino acid family, which includes methionine, threonine, isoleucine, and lysine. Aspartokinase, the first enzyme in this pathway, is encoded by the ask gene in mycobacteria. Previous attempts to disrupt this gene in Mycobacterium smegmatis were unsuccessful, even when the cells were supplied with all the members of the aspartate family, suggesting that unlike other bacteria, mycobacteria may have an absolute requirement for this pathway even when growing in rich medium containing DAP. The purpose of this study was to determine if the ask gene and the aspartate pathway are essential to M. smegmatis. This study describes a test for gene essentiality in mycobacteria, utilizing a counterselectable marker (streptomycin resistance) in conjunction with a specially constructed merodiploid strain. We have used this system to show that the ask gene could not be disrupted in wild-type M. smegmatis, using selective rich medium supplemented with DAP unless there was an extra copy of ask provided elsewhere in the chromosome. Disruption of ask was also possible in a lysine auxotroph incapable of converting DAP to lysine. The ask mutant, mc21278 (ask1::aph), exhibits multiple auxotrophy (Met-, Thr-, DAP-, and Lys-) and is complemented by the ask gene. This is the first description of DAP auxotrophy in mycobacteria. The ask mutant lyses when deprived of DAP in culture, a characteristic which can be exploited for the reproducible preparation of protoplasts and mycobacterial extracts. The evidence presented here indicates that the aspartate pathway is essential to M. smegmatis and that DAP is the essential product of this pathway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6496-6507
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Bacteriology
Issue number22
StatePublished - 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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