In Escherichia coli, taxis to certain chemoeffectors is mediated through an intrinsic membrane protein called methyl-accepting chemotaxis protein I (MCP I), which is the product of the tsr gene. Mutants were selected that are defective in taxis toward all MCP I-mediated attractants (alpha-aminoisobutyrate, L-alanine, glycine, and L-serine) but are normal to MCP I-mediated repellents and to chemoeffectors mediated by other MCPs. The mutants could be divided into two classes based on their ability to respond to various concentrations of L-serine. Two MCP I-mediated L-serine systems appear to function in the wild type: one of high and one of lower affinity. The mutations responsible for the serine taxis defects map at about 99 min on the E. coli chromosome and are not complemented by episomes carrying mutations in the tsr gene; this suggests that they are defective in tsr function. Low concentrations of L-[14C]serine specifically bound to wild-type membranes with a Km of 5 microM; in contrast, there was greatly decreased binding to vesicles prepared from the new mutants or from the tsr mutant AW518. Binding of labeled serine to wild-type vesicles was inhibited by MCP I-mediated attractants, but not by MCP II-mediated attractants. The data suggest that MCP I may function as the L-serine chemoreceptor in E. coli.
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