A new class of cold shock-induced proteins that may be involved in an adaptive process required for cell viability at low temperatures or may function as antifreeze proteins in Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been identified. We purified a small Bacillus subtilis cold shock protein (CspB) and determined its amino-terminal sequence. By using mixed degenerate oligonucleotides, the corresponding gene (cspB) was cloned on two overlapping fragments of 5 and 6 kb. The gene encodes an acidic 67-amino-acid protein (pI 4.31) with a predicted molecular mass of 7,365 Da. Nucleotide and deduced amino acid sequence comparisons revealed 61% identity to the major cold shock protein of E. coli and 43% identity to a family of eukaryotic DNA binding proteins. Northern RNA blot and primer extension studies indicated the presence of one cspB transcript that was initiated 119 bp upstream of the initiation codon and was found to be induced severalfold when exponentially growing B. subtilis cell cultures were transferred from 37 degrees C to 10 degrees C. Consistent with this cold shock induction of cspB mRNA, a six- to eightfold induction of a cspB-directed beta-galactosidase synthesis was observed upon downshift in temperature. To investigate the function of CspB, we inactivated the cold shock protein by replacing the cspB gene in the B. subtilis chromosome with a cat-interrupted copy (cspB::cat) by marker replacement recombination. The viability of cells of this mutant strain, GW1, at freezing temperatures was strongly affected. However, the effect of having no CspB in GW1 could be slightly compensated for when cells were preincubated at 10 degrees C before freezing. These results indicate that CspB belongs to a new type of stress-inducible proteins that might be able to protect B. subtilis cells from damage caused by ice crystal formation during freezing
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