BldC delays entry into development to produce a sustained period of vegetative growth in Streptomyces venezuelae

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Streptomycetes are filamentous bacteria that differentiate by producing spore-bearing reproductive structures called aerial hyphae. The transition from vegetative to reproductive growth is controlled by the bld (bald) loci, and mutations in bld genes prevent the formation of aerial hyphae, either by blocking entry into development (typically mutations in activators) or by inducing precocious sporulation in the vegetative mycelium (typically mutations in repressors). One of the bld genes, bldC, encodes a 68-residue DNA-binding protein related to the DNA-binding domain of MerR-family transcription factors. Recent work has shown that BldC binds DNA by a novel mechanism, but there is less insight into its impact on Streptomyces development. Here we used ChIP-seq coupled with RNA-seq to define the BldC regulon in the model species Streptomyces venezuelae, showing that BldC can function both as a repressor and as an activator of transcription. Using electron microscopy and time-lapse imaging, we show that bldC mutants are bald because they initiate development prematurely, bypassing the formation of aerial hyphae. This is consistent with the premature expression of BldC target genes encoding proteins with key roles in development (e.g., whiD, whiI, sigF), chromosome condensation and segregation (e.g., smeA-sffA, hupS), and sporulation-specific cell division (e.g., dynAB), suggesting that BldC-mediated repression is critical to maintain a sustained period of vegetative growth prior to sporulation. We discuss the possible significance of BldC as an evolutionary link between MerR family transcription factors and DNA architectural proteins.