Applied and environmental microbiology

Modulation of medium pH by Caulobacter crescentus facilitates recovery from uranium-induced growth arrest.

PMID 25002429


The oxidized form of uranium [U(VI)] predominates in oxic environments and poses a major threat to ecosystems. Due to its ability to mineralize U(VI), the oligotroph Caulobacter crescentus is an attractive candidate for U(VI) bioremediation. However, the physiological basis for U(VI) tolerance is unclear. Here we demonstrated that U(VI) caused a temporary growth arrest in C. crescentus and three other bacterial species, although the duration of growth arrest was significantly shorter for C. crescentus. During the majority of the growth arrest period, cell morphology was unaltered and DNA replication initiation was inhibited. However, during the transition from growth arrest to exponential phase, cells with shorter stalks were observed, suggesting a decoupling between stalk development and the cell cycle. Upon recovery from growth arrest, C. crescentus proliferated with a growth rate comparable to that of a control without U(VI), although a fraction of these cells appeared filamentous with multiple replication start sites. Normal cell morphology was restored by the end of exponential phase. Cells did not accumulate U(VI) resistance mutations during the prolonged growth arrest, but rather, a reduction in U(VI) toxicity occurred concomitantly with an increase in medium pH. Together, these data suggest that C. crescentus recovers from U(VI)-induced growth arrest by reducing U(VI) toxicity through pH modulation. Our finding represents a unique U(VI) detoxification strategy and provides insight into how microbes cope with U(VI) under nongrowing conditions, a metabolic state that is prevalent in natural environments.