Surprisingly Broad use of Metals in Microbial Proteins


Metals such as iron, manganese, and zinc play critical roles in a wide variety of proteins, in many cases forming the active site of enzymes performing critical biological functions. Microbes in particular incorporate a wide range of metal ions into their proteins. However, difficulties in purifying and examining the structure of these proteins have limited understanding of the role of metals in many processes of industrial and environmental significance. A new genome wide approach to examine utilization of metals by microbes has just been published in the journal Nature by a collaborative team from the University of Georgia, Scripps Research Institute, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They focused on the hyperthermophile Pyrococcus furiosus, identifying 158 distinct metalloproteins incorporating 21 different metals! Nearly half of these contained metals not previously known to be used by the organism, including lead, vanadium, and uranium. This approach was also successfully applied to E. coli and the thermophile Sulfolobus solfataricus. These results indicate a much broader role for metals in microbially-mediated processes than had previously been known. The research provides a powerful new tool for screening for metal-containing proteins in any organism with a sequenced genome.


Cvetkovic et al., 2010 “Microbial metalloproteomes are largely uncharacterized” Nature doi:10.1038/nature09265. Advance online publication on July 18, 2010.