Tellurite (TeO3(2-)) is highly toxic toward Escherichia coli (MIC, approximately 1 microgram ml-1). Mutants (Tel) that were resistant to low levels of TeO3(2-) (MIC, approximately 10 micrograms ml-1) and collaterally resistant to arsenate were isolated. These Tel mutants were unable to grow on media containing low levels of Pi, which supported growth of the parent strain. When grown at much higher Pi levels they exhibited depressed levels of the outer membrane phoE protein and the periplasmic phoS protein, as well as several other proteins indicative of Pi starvation. Tel mutants were markedly defective in 32Pi transport, and TeO3(2-) was shown to be a potent competitive inhibitor of 32Pi transport in the parent strain. The Tel phenotype could be complemented by an F' plasmid harboring the phoR, phoB, and phoA loci, and curing of the F' plasmid completely restored TeO3(2-) resistance. Of a variety of well-characterized Pi transport mutants, only phoB mutants were equally resistant to TeO3(2-), and susceptibility could also be restored in strains carrying an F' plasmid for the phoB region and lost once more after F' curing. The tel and phoB loci were equally cotransducible with lac. Tel mutants still synthesized alkaline phosphatase, the phoA gene product, after Pi starvation, suggesting that the phoB locus per se was not involved because phoB is a positive regulatory gene for phoA expression. The results indicate that TeO3(2-) is transported into E. coli by a phosphate transport system and that resistance to TeO3(2-) specifically selects for as yet uncharacterized mutants in the phoB-phoA region of the chromosome
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