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Chasing order beyond the realm of the visible: a new tool tidies up molecules at the nano level [VIDEO] Chasing order beyond the realm of the visible: a new tool tidies up molecules at the nano level [VIDEO] December 9, 2019

A protein from cyanobacteria has been redesigned into a homing beacon to attract molecular payloads. The long-term goal: to organize resources inside living cells for medical or industrial applications.

[VIDEO] A new way to 'hoard' resources in nano-sized factories targeted for biotech [VIDEO] A new way to 'hoard' resources in nano-sized factories targeted for biotech June 4, 2019

'Hoarding' resources in the same location encourages more efficient chemical reactions. Someday, we could use this system to enhance the production of rubber, biofuels, and other commodities.

Simpler & smaller: a new synthetic nanofactory inspired by nature Simpler & smaller: a new synthetic nanofactory inspired by nature April 29, 2019

The genetically engineered shell is based on natural structures and the principles of protein evolution. Scientists see such structures as a source of new industrial or medical technologies.

[VIDEO] How bacteria organize their factories, and what it means for a bioeconomy [VIDEO] How bacteria organize their factories, and what it means for a bioeconomy December 6, 2018

MSU scientists report how cyanobacteria line up their CO2-fixing factories within them in a system that works like Velcro. The research is part of an effort to control and repurpose these factories to make products for human consumption.

New ways to control bacterial factories for future biotech uses New ways to control bacterial factories for future biotech uses November 7, 2018

The new methods let scientists assemble the factories on demand and insert custom molecules inside them for further processing. The aim is to eventually design sustainable medical, industrial, or energy applications.

Scientists find new methods to control bacterial factories for biotech aims Scientists find new methods to control bacterial factories for biotech aims July 24, 2018

The Kerfeld lab announces two new methods for manipulating bacterial factories for biotech aims: one is to screen and extract the factories, the other is to predictably insert custom enzymes in them.

How to build an artificial nano-factory to power our futures 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 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.

[VIDEO] Our first ever look at bacterial organelle shells

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.

GIF of the bacterial shell
A GIF of the bacterial microcompartment.
Source: Markus Sutter

Why this is important: BMCs for nanotechnologies

While plant and animal cell organelles are made of  lipids (small molecules found in fats, oils, and waxes), BMCs are made of different types of  proteins.

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.”

For more, check out the original story on MSU Today by Layne Cameron.

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