A variant of the Escherichia coli anaerobic transcription factor FNR exhibiting diminished promoter activation function enhances ionizing radiation resistance

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We have previously generated four replicate populations of ionizing radiation (IR)-resistant Escherichia coli though directed evolution. Sequencing of isolates from these populations revealed that mutations affecting DNA repair (through DNA double-strand break repair and replication restart), ROS amelioration, and cell wall metabolism were prominent. Three mutations involved in DNA repair explained the IR resistance phenotype in one population, and similar DNA repair mutations were prominent in two others. The remaining population, IR-3-20, had no mutations in the key DNA repair proteins, suggesting that it had taken a different evolutionary path to IR resistance. Here, we present evidence that a variant of the anaerobic metabolism transcription factor FNR, unique to and isolated from population IR-3-20, plays a role in IR resistance. The F186I allele of FNR exhibits a diminished ability to activate transcription from FNR-activatable promoters, and furthermore reduces levels of intracellular ROS. The FNR F186I variant is apparently capable of enhancing resistance to IR under chronic irradiation conditions, but does not increase cell survival when exposed to acute irradiation. Our results underline the importance of dose rate on cell survival of IR exposure.

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PloS one

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