Bacterial cells develop mutations in the absence of cellular division through a process known as stationary-phase or stress-induced mutagenesis. This phenomenon has been studied in a few bacterial models, including Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis; however, the underlying mechanisms between these systems differ. For instance, RecA is not required for stationary-phase mutagenesis in B. subtilis like it is in E. coli. In B. subtilis, RecA is essential to the process of genetic transformation in the subpopulation of cells that become naturally competent in conditions of stress. Interestingly, the transcriptional regulator ComK, which controls the development of competence, does influence the accumulation of mutations in stationary phase in B. subtilis. Since recombination is not involved in this process even though ComK is, we investigated if the development of a subpopulation (K-cells) could be involved in stationary-phase mutagenesis. Using genetic knockout strains and a point-mutation reversion system, we investigated the effects of ComK, ComEA (a protein involved in DNA transport during transformation), and oxidative damage on stationary-phase mutagenesis. We found that stationary-phase revertants were more likely to have undergone the development of competence than the background of non-revertant cells, mutations accumulated independently of DNA uptake, and the presence of exogenous oxidants potentiated mutagenesis in K-cells. Therefore, the development of the K-state creates conditions favorable to an increase in the genetic diversity of the population not only through exogenous DNA uptake but also through stationary-phase mutagenesis.
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