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The product and direct role of the rssC gene of Serratia marcescens is unknown. For unraveling the role of the rssC gene, atomic force microscopy has been used to identify the surfaces of intact S. marcescens wild-type CH-1 cells and rssC mutant CH-1ΔC cells. The detailed surface topographies were directly visualized, and quantitative measurements of the physical properties of the membrane structures were provided. CH-1 and CH-1ΔC cells were observed before and after treatment with lysozyme, and their topography-related parameters, e.g., a valley-to-peak distance, mean height, surface roughness, and surface root-mean-square values, were defined and compared. The data obtained suggest that the cellular surface topography of mutant CH-1ΔC becomes rougher and more precipitous than that of wild-type CH-1 cells. Moreover, it was found that, compared with native wild-type CH-1, the cellular surface topography of lysozyme-treated CH-1 was not changed profoundly. The product of the rssC gene is thus predicted to be mainly responsible for fatty-acid biosynthesis of the S. marcescens outer membrane. This study represents the first direct observation of the structural changes in membranes of bacterial mutant cells and offers a new prospect for predicting gene expression in bacterial cells.
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