Transcriptional changes when Myxococcus xanthus preys on Escherichia coli suggest myxobacterial predators are constitutively toxic but regulate their feeding.

Predation is a fundamental ecological process, but within most microbial ecosystems the molecular mechanisms of predation remain poorly understood. We investigated transcriptome changes associated with the predation of Escherichia coli by the myxobacterium Myxococcus xanthus using mRNA sequencing. Exposure to pre-killed prey significantly altered expression of 1319 predator genes. However, the transcriptional response to living prey was minimal, with only 12 genes being significantly up-regulated. The genes most induced by prey presence (kdpA and kdpB, members of the kdp regulon) were confirmed by reverse transcriptase quantitative PCR to be regulated by osmotic shock in M. xanthus, suggesting indirect sensing of prey. However, the prey showed extensive transcriptome changes when co-cultured with predator, with 40 % of its genes (1534) showing significant changes in expression. Bacteriolytic M. xanthus culture supernatant and secreted outer membrane vesicles (OMVs) also induced changes in expression of large numbers of prey genes (598 and 461, respectively). Five metabolic pathways were significantly enriched in prey genes up-regulated on exposure to OMVs, supernatant and/or predatory cells, including those for ribosome and lipopolysaccharide production, suggesting that the prey cell wall and protein production are primary targets of the predator's attack. Our data suggest a model of the myxobacterial predatome (genes and proteins associated with predation) in which the predator constitutively produces secretions which disable its prey whilst simultaneously generating a signal that prey is present. That signal then triggers a regulated feeding response in the predator.