Fitness cost of the green fluorescent protein in gastrointestinal bacteria

Rang, Camilla; Galen, James E; Kaper, James B; Chao, Lin
September 2003
Canadian Journal of Microbiology;Sep2003, Vol. 49 Issue 9, p531
Academic Journal
There are surprisingly few studies that have successfully used the green fluorescent protein (GFP) as a quantitative reporter in selection experiments screening for inducible bacterial promoters. One explanation is that GFP expression may confer a fitness cost for bacteria. To test this possibility, we monitored the doubling time in enteric bacteria expressing GFP. Four bacterial species, Escherichia coli, enterohaemorrhagic E. coli, Shigella flexneri, Salmonella typhi, and Vibrio cholerae, were examined. The level of GFP expression was varied by using a salt-inducible promoter. After accounting for the increase in doubling time resulting from elevated osmolarity, the doubling time of all bacteria was found to increase proportionally with GFP expression, and some strains were more affected than others. Cultures of the bacteria most affected by GFP exhibited a proportion of elongated cells, which suggests that GFP production could interfere with cell division in these strains. The results in this study show that GFP is costly to bacteria and suggest that overly active promoters should be difficult to obtain from a genomic promoter library. They also suggest that the chances of succeeding in using GFP as a reporter in selection experiments are increased by growing the bacteria for the fewest number of generations and by subduing the expression of GFP whenever possible, such as by using a low copy vector to clone the library.


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