Impaired competence in flagellar mutants of Bacillus subtilis is connected to the regulatory network governed by DegU.
The competent state is a developmentally distinct phase, in which bacteria are able to take up and integrate exogenous DNA into their genome. Bacillus subtilis is one of the naturally competent bacterial species and the domesticated laboratory strain 168 is easily transformable. In this study, we report a reduced transformation frequency of B. subtilis mutants lacking functional and structural flagellar components. This includes hag, the gene encoding the flagellin protein forming the filament of the flagellum. We confirm that the observed decrease of the transformation frequency is due to reduced expression of competence genes, particularly of the main competence regulator gene comK. The impaired competence is due to an increase in the phosphorylated form of the response regulator DegU, which is involved in regulation of both flagellar motility and competence. Altogether, our study identified a close link between motility and natural competence in B. subtilis suggesting that hindrance in motility has great impact on differentiation of this bacterium not restricted only to the transition towards sessile growth stage.