The Bacillus cereus ATCC 14579 alternative σ factor σZ and its putative regulon have been characterized. σZ shows overall similarity with ECF σ factors and sigZ constitutes an operon together with asfZ encoding its putative anti-σ factor. Expression analysis revealed sigZ to be induced by an array of stresses, including exposure to ethanol, alkaline pH and heat shock, and a typical promoter binding site for the sigZ-operon was identified by 5’RACE. Phenotypic characterization of B. cereus ATCC 14579 and its sigZ-deletion strain revealed diminished growth performance and sporulation capacity. The σZ-regulon was successfully established by transcriptome analysis of a nisin inducible sigZ-overexpression strain. Overexpression of sigZ was shown to affect expression of 42 genes, including 33 genes encoding proteins located in the extracytoplasm. The identified σZ regulon contained genes encoding proteins situated in the extracytoplasm involved in cell surface modifications and transport. The regulation of genes encoding cell surface modification proteins implies σZ to be involved in the regulation of interaction of B. cereus ATCC 14579 with its environments, which includes human intestinal cells, possibly influencing its virulence status.
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