Charles E Cowles

University of Wisconsin, Madison, Madison, MS, United States

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Publications (8)35.37 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Members of the genus Xenorhabdus are entomopathogenic bacteria that associate with nematodes. The nematode-bacteria pair infects and kills insects, with both partners contributing to insect pathogenesis and the bacteria providing nutrition to the nematode from available insect-derived nutrients. The nematode provides the bacteria with protection from predators, access to nutrients, and a mechanism of dispersal. Members of the bacterial genus Photorhabdus also associate with nematodes to kill insects, and both genera of bacteria provide similar services to their different nematode hosts through unique physiological and metabolic mechanisms. We posited that these differences would be reflected in their respective genomes. To test this, we sequenced to completion the genomes of Xenorhabdus nematophila ATCC 19061 and Xenorhabdus bovienii SS-2004. As expected, both Xenorhabdus genomes encode many anti-insecticidal compounds, commensurate with their entomopathogenic lifestyle. Despite the similarities in lifestyle between Xenorhabdus and Photorhabdus bacteria, a comparative analysis of the Xenorhabdus, Photorhabdus luminescens, and P. asymbiotica genomes suggests genomic divergence. These findings indicate that evolutionary changes shaped by symbiotic interactions can follow different routes to achieve similar end points.
    PLoS ONE 01/2011; 6(11):e27909. · 3.73 Impact Factor
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    Charles E Cowles, Heidi Goodrich-Blair
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    ABSTRACT: Members of the Steinernema genus of nematodes are colonized mutualistically by members of the Xenorhabdus genus of bacteria. In nature, Steinernema carpocapsae nematodes are always found in association with Xenorhabdus nematophila bacteria. Thus, this interaction, like many microbe-host associations, appears to be species specific. X. nematophila requires the nilA, nilB, and nilC genes to colonize S. carpocapsae. In this work, we showed that of all the Xenorhabdus species examined, only X. nematophila has the nilA, nilB, and nilC genes. By exposing S. carpocapsae to other Xenorhabdus spp., we established that only X. nematophila is able to colonize S. carpocapsae; therefore, the S. carpocapsae-X. nematophila interaction is species specific. Further, we showed that introduction of the nilA, nilB, and nilC genes into other Xenorhabdus species enables them to colonize the same S. carpocapsae host tissue that is normally colonized by X. nematophila. Finally, sequence analysis supported the idea that the nil genes were horizontally acquired. Our findings indicate that a single genetic locus determines host specificity in this bacteria-animal mutualism and that host range expansion can occur through the acquisition of a small genetic element.
    Journal of bacteriology 07/2008; 190(12):4121-8. · 3.94 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Xenorhabdus nematophila is a Gram-negative bacterium that leads both pathogenic and mutualistic lifestyles. In this study, we examine the role of Lrp, the leucine-responsive regulatory protein, in regulating both of these lifestyles. lrp mutants have attenuated virulence towards Manduca sexta insects and are defective in suppression of both cellular and humoral insect immunity. In addition, an lrp mutant is deficient in initiating colonization of and growth within mutualistic host nematodes. Furthermore, nematodes reared on lrp mutant lawns exhibit decreased overall numbers of nematode progeny. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of virulence attenuation associated with an lrp mutation in any bacterium, as well as the first report of a factor involved in both X. nematophila symbioses. Protein profiles of wild-type and mutant cells indicate that Lrp is a global regulator of expression in X. nematophila, affecting approximately 65% of 290 proteins. We show that Lrp binds to the promoter regions of genes known to be involved in basic metabolism, mutualism and pathogenesis, demonstrating that the regulation of at least some host interaction factors is likely direct. Finally, we demonstrate that Lrp influences aspects of X. nematophila phenotypic variation, a spontaneous process that occurs during prolonged growth in stationary phase.
    Cellular Microbiology 06/2007; 9(5):1311-23. · 4.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Virulence of the insect pathogen Xenorhabdus nematophila is attributed in part to its ability to suppress immunity. For example, X. nematophila suppresses transcripts encoding several antimicrobial proteins, even in the presence of Salmonella enterica, an inducer of these transcripts. We show here that virulence and immune suppression phenotypes can be lost in a subpopulation of X. nematophila. Cells that have undergone 'virulence modulation' (vmo) have attenuated virulence and fail to suppress antimicrobial transcript levels, haemocyte aggregation and nodulation in Manduca sexta insects. When plated on certain media, vmo cells have a higher proportion of translucent (versus opaque) colonies compared with non-vmo cells. Like vmo strains, translucent colony isolates are defective in virulence and immune suppression. The X. nematophila genome encodes two 'opacity' genes with similarity to the Ail/PagC/Rck family of outer membrane proteins involved in adherence, invasion and serum resistance. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis shows that RNA levels of one of these opacity genes, opaB, are higher in opaque relative to translucent colonies. We propose that in X. nematophila opaB may be one of several factors involved in immune suppression during infection, and expression of these factors can be co-ordinately eliminated in a subpopulation, possibly through a phase variation mechanism.
    Cellular Microbiology 04/2007; 9(3):645-56. · 4.81 Impact Factor
  • Charles E Cowles, Heidi Goodrich-Blair
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    ABSTRACT: The bacterial mutualist Xenorhabdus nematophila colonizes a specific region of its nematode host Steinernema carpocapsae. We previously reported the identification of a chromosomal locus encoding three X. nematophila genes of unknown function, nilA, B and C, that are each necessary for colonization. Subsequent work indicated the global regulator Lrp is a repressor of nilC: nilC transcription is elevated in an lrp mutant and Lrp interacts directly with the nilC promoter. In this manuscript, we report the identification of an additional gene, nilR, required for repression of nilC transcription. We show that nilR and lrp mutants also have elevated expression of nilA and nilB, demonstrating that nilA, B and C are co-ordinately regulated. nil gene expression is derepressed most strongly when both nilR and lrp are lacking, suggesting NilR and Lrp synergistically repress nil transcription. NilR contains a helix-turn-helix-type DNA binding domain and likely acts directly at promoters. A comparison of the wild type and nilR proteomes indicates that NilR, unlike Lrp, regulates a small number of genes. Finally, X. nematophila carrying an ectopic copy of nilR colonizes at approximately 60-fold lower levels than the control strain, suggesting that derepression of nil gene expression is necessary for nematode colonization.
    Molecular Microbiology 12/2006; 62(3):760-71. · 4.96 Impact Factor
  • Charles E Cowles, Heidi Goodrich-Blair
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    ABSTRACT: Xenorhabdus nematophila is a gamma-proteobacterial mutualist of an insect-pathogenic nematode, Steinernema carpocapsae. X. nematophila requires nilC, a gene predicted to encode an outer membrane lipoprotein of unknown function, for colonization of its nematode host. Characterization of NilC, described here, demonstrated it is a 28 kDa lipoprotein directed to the periplasm by an N-terminal signal sequence. Lipidation and processing of NilC occurs by a mechanism that is conserved in proteobacteria. This work also showed NilC is membrane associated and oriented towards the periplasm of X. nematophila and is produced as an outer membrane-associated protein when expressed in Escherichia coli. Expression analyses revealed that nilC transcription is directly or indirectly repressed by Lrp, and this regulatory link may explain the nematode mutualism defect of a previously identified lrp::Tn5 mutant. An lrp::Tn5 mutant produces an additional nilC transcript, not observed in wild-type cells growing in vitro, and produces approximately 75-fold more nilC than wild-type cells in late stationary phase. These fundamental characterizations of nilC expression and nilC localization and processing events have provided firm bases for understanding the role of this colonization factor in the X. nematophila/S. carpocapsae microbe-host interaction.
    Molecular Microbiology 11/2004; 54(2):464-77. · 4.96 Impact Factor
  • Kurt Heungens, Charles E Cowles, Heidi Goodrich-Blair
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    ABSTRACT: One stage in the symbiotic interaction between the bacterium Xenorhabdus nematophila and its nematode host, Steinernema carpocapsae, involves the species-specific colonization of the nematode intestinal vesicle by the bacterium. To characterize the bacterial molecular determinants that are essential for vesicle colonization, we adapted and applied a signature-tagged mutagenesis (STM) screen to this system. We identified 15 out of 3000 transposon mutants of X. nematophila with at least a 15-fold reduction in average vesicle colonization. These 15 mutants harbour disruptions in nine separate loci. Three of these loci have predicted open reading frames (ORFs) with similarity to genes (rpoS, rpoE, lrp) encoding regulatory proteins; two have predicted ORFs with similarity to genes (aroA, serC) encoding amino acid biosynthetic enzymes; one, designated nilB (nematode intestine localization), has an ORF with similarity to a gene encoding a putative outer membrane protein (OmpU) in Neisseria; and three, nilA, nilC and nilD, have no apparent homologues in the public database. nilA, nilB and nilC are linked on a single 4 kb locus. nilB and nilC are > 104-fold reduced in their ability to colonize the nematode vesicle and are predicted to encode membrane-localized proteins. The nilD locus contains an extensive repeat region and several small putative ORFs. Other than reduced colonization, the nilB, nilC and nilD mutants did not display alterations in any other phenotype tested, suggesting a specific role for these genes in allowing X. nematophila to associate with the nematode host.
    Molecular Microbiology 10/2002; 45(5):1337-53. · 4.96 Impact Factor
  • Source
    C E Cowles, N N Nichols, C S Harwood
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    ABSTRACT: Pseudomonas putida converts benzoate to catechol using two enzymes that are encoded on the chromosome and whose expression is induced by benzoate. Benzoate also binds to the regulator XylS to induce expression of the TOL (toluene degradation) plasmid-encoded meta pathway operon for benzoate and methylbenzoate degradation. Finally, benzoate represses the ability of P. putida to transport 4-hydroxybenzoate (4-HBA) by preventing transcription of pcaK, the gene encoding the 4-HBA permease. Here we identified a gene, benR, as a regulator of benzoate, methylbenzoate, and 4-HBA degradation genes. A benR mutant isolated by random transposon mutagenesis was unable to grow on benzoate. The deduced amino acid sequence of BenR showed high similarity (62% identity) to the sequence of XylS, a member of the AraC family of regulators. An additional seven genes located adjacent to benR were inferred to be involved in benzoate degradation based on their deduced amino acid sequences. The benABC genes likely encode benzoate dioxygenase, and benD likely encodes 2-hydro-1,2-dihydroxybenzoate dehydrogenase. benK and benF were assigned functions as a benzoate permease and porin, respectively. The possible function of a final gene, benE, is not known. benR activated expression of a benA-lacZ reporter fusion in response to benzoate. It also activated expression of a meta cleavage operon promoter-lacZ fusion inserted in an E. coli chromosome. Third, benR was required for benzoate-mediated repression of pcaK-lacZ fusion expression. The benA promoter region contains a direct repeat sequence that matches the XylS binding site previously defined for the meta cleavage operon promoter. It is likely that BenR binds to the promoter region of chromosomal benzoate degradation genes and plasmid-encoded methylbenzoate degradation genes to activate gene expression in response to benzoate. The action of BenR in repressing 4-HBA uptake is probably indirect.
    Journal of Bacteriology 12/2000; 182(22):6339-46. · 3.19 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

241 Citations
35.37 Total Impact Points


  • 2002–2011
    • University of Wisconsin, Madison
      • Department of Bacteriology
      Madison, MS, United States
  • 2000
    • University of Iowa
      • Department of Microbiology
      Iowa City, IA, United States