[VIDEO] Our first ever look at bacterial organelle shells
This is a non-scientist friendly article. Words preceded by are defined when hovered over.
Remember when, in biology class, we were taught that animal and plant cells had little organelles in them – like chloroplasts or mitochondria – and bacteria lacked those? And how that fact made bacteria feel a bit less special?
It turns out bacteria have their own counterparts, called bacterial microcompartments (or BMCs for short).
And, in a feat that took about two years to accomplish, Cheryl Kerfeld and her lab have seen the fine details of the shells that make up these bacterial organelles, which function as the organisms’ nano-factories.
The results, led by Michigan State University are featured in the current issue of Science.
“We’ve produced a detailed snapshot – at atomic-level resolution – of the membrane of bacterial organelles,” says Cheryl Kerfeld the Hannah Distinguished Professor of Structural Bioengineering at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Lab. “By seeing the intact bacterial organelle shell, we now understand how the basic building blocks are put together to construct the organelle membrane.”
Markus Sutter, co-author says, “It is like you see something kind of blurry. You put glasses on, and then you see it all clear. This is really exciting. This is what we have been looking to do for years.”
The structure described is likely to become the textbook model of the membrane of primitive bacterial organelles, Kerfeld says.
Why this is important: understanding how BMCs work for nanotechnologies
BMCs are used differently across a diverse range of bacteria. Some pathogenic bacteria use them to outcompete “good” bacteria, while others use BMCs to create energy compounds through photosynthesis.
But the protein shells that make up BMCs are fundamentally the same. And now that Kerfeld and her team can see a BMC structure, it makes it easier to understand how BMCs work and target them for medical or renewable energy applications.
The structure described is likely to become the textbook model of the membrane of primitive bacterial organelles.
“Our results provide the structural basis to design experiments to explain how molecules cross the organelle shell, how specific enzymes are targeted to the inside and how the shells self-assemble,” said Kerfeld, who’s also an affiliate of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
“This work also provides the foundation to develop therapeutics to disrupt the assembly and function of the BMCs found in pathogens or enhance those that play a role in photosynthesis in order to make fuel molecules, rubber, or plastic.”
- How to build an artificial nano-factory to power our futures
- June 14, 2017
The Kerfeld lab has analyzed over 200 sets of cyanobacteria DNA. This knowledge is getting us closer to understanding how to build synthetic factories that will someday produce green fuels or products used to diagnose diseases.
- Unpacking a new bacterial mini-factory
- March 30, 2017
The new compartment, widely spread among different kinds of bacteria, might be reassembled to someday sustainably produce “green” chemicals, medicines, and renewable energy.
- Innovative PRL research impresses at international workshop
- July 26, 2016
PRL won two prizes at the 12th Workshop on Cyanobacteria, geared towards students and post docs. We interviewed our winners to find out what got them in science, and why their research is cool.