One of the signals that has been reported to be important in stimulating fruiting body formation of Myxococcus xanthus is starvation for phosphate. We therefore chose to study phosphatase activity during M. xanthus development. Many phosphatases can cleave the substrate p-nitrophenol phosphate. Using this substrate in buffers at various pHs, we obtained a profile of phosphatase activities during development and germination of M. xanthus. These experiments indicated that there are five patterns of phosphatase activity in M. xanthus: two vegetative and three developmental. The two uniquely vegetative activities have pH optima at 7.2 and 8.5. Both require magnesium and both are inhibited by the reducing agent dithiothreitol. The developmental (spores) patterns of activity have pH optima of 5.2, 7.2, and 8.5. All three activities are Mg independent. Only the alkaline phosphatase activity is inhibited by dithiothreitol. The acid phosphatase activity is induced very early in development, within the first 2 to 4 h. Both the neutral and alkaline phosphatase Mg-independent activities are induced much later, about the time that myxospores become evident (24 to 30 h). The three activities are greatly diminished upon germination; however, the kinetics of loss differ for all three. The acid phosphatase activity declines very rapidly, the neutral activity begins to decline only after spores begin to convert to rods, and the alkaline phosphatase activity remains high until the time the cells begin to divide. All three developmental activities were measured in the developmental signalling mutants carrying asg, csg, and dsg. The pattern of expression obtained in the mutants was consistent with that of other developmentally regulated genes which exhibit similar patterns of expression during development. The ease with which phosphatases can be assayed should make the activities described in this report useful biochemical markers of stages of both fruiting body formation and germination
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