Understanding How Microbes Sequester Potentially Deadly Metabolites


Living cells use precise control processes to regulate critical metabolic processes. Sometimes cells produce volatile or potentially damaging byproducts that need to be sequestered to protect the cells. Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles-DOE Institute for Genomics and Proteomics have discovered the structure of an important type of microcompartment in microbial cells that enables ethanolamine to be metabolized without releasing the volatile intermediate, acetaldehyde. They determined the structures of the four proteins that make up the walls of the microcompartment and used this information to discover how the combined structures enable selective transport across the walls to protect the microbe from toxic damage. The understanding gained in the research could enable design of nanoparticles using proteins modified to enhance production of molecules for biofuels and other applications. The research has just been published in Science.


S. Tanaka, M.R. Sawaya and T.O. Yeates “Structure and mechanisms of a protein-based organelle in Escherichia coliScience 2010 327(1) 81-84.