A eukaryotic-like Ser/Thr kinase signals bacteria to exit dormancy in response to peptidoglycan fragments.
Bacteria can respond to adverse environmental conditions by drastically reducing or even ceasing metabolic activity. They must then determine that conditions have improved before exiting dormancy, and one indication of such a change is the growth of other bacteria in the local environment. Growing bacteria release muropeptide fragments of the cell wall into the extracellular milieu, and we report here that these muropeptides are potent germinants of dormant Bacillus subtilis spores. The ability of a muropeptide to act as a germinant is determined by the identity of a single amino acid. A well-conserved, eukaryotic-like Ser/Thr membrane kinase containing an extracellular domain capable of binding peptidoglycan is necessary for this response, and a small molecule that stimulates related eukaryotic kinases is sufficient to induce germination. Another small molecule, staurosporine, that inhibits related eukaryotic kinases blocks muropeptide-dependent germination. Thus, in contrast to traditional antimicrobials that inhibit metabolically active cells, staurosporine acts by blocking germination of dormant spores.