Some Enzymes Just Need a Space of Their Own

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Science  01 Jan 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5961, pp. 42-43
DOI: 10.1126/science.1184318

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In many ways biology is defined by the idea (and reality) of containers and well-defined barriers. These enable the distinction of self from the rest of the universe, separation of cells from each other, and the definition of organelles within a cell. Although many biological barriers and compartmental boundaries are lipid-based membranes, there is a growing awareness, brought about by some spectacular structural biology, of protein-based compartments that act as isolated environments within the cell. On page 81 of this issue, Tanaka et al. (1) add to the growing number of examples of protein-based microcompartments, reporting the structure of a microcompartment that sequesters ethanolamine metabolism in the bacterium Escherichia coli. These protein-based containers challenge a long-standing assumption that bacteria and archaea, which lack membrane-enclosed organelles, are devoid of internal compartmentalization.