Assembly principles and structure of a 6.5-MDa bacterial microcompartment shell

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Science  23 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6344, pp. 1293-1297
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan3289

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How to make a protein-based nanocontainer

Bacterial microcompartments are to bacteria what membrane-bound organelles are to eukaryotic cells. They are specialized subcellular compartments for colocalizing enzymes to enhance reaction rates, protect sensitive proteins, and sequester toxic intermediates. Sutter et al. determined the atomic-resolution structure of a complete 6.5-megadalton bacterial microcompartment shell. The shell is composed of hundreds of copies of five distinct proteins that form hexamers, pentamers, and three types of trimers. The assembly principles revealed by the structure provide the basis to rationally manipulate self-assembly in native and engineered systems and could help, for example, in the design of subcellular nanoreactors.

Science, this issue p. 1293


Many bacteria contain primitive organelles composed entirely of protein. These bacterial microcompartments share a common architecture of an enzymatic core encapsulated in a selectively permeable protein shell; prominent examples include the carboxysome for CO2 fixation and catabolic microcompartments found in many pathogenic microbes. The shell sequesters enzymatic reactions from the cytosol, analogous to the lipid-based membrane of eukaryotic organelles. Despite available structural information for single building blocks, the principles of shell assembly have remained elusive. We present the crystal structure of an intact shell from Haliangium ochraceum, revealing the basic principles of bacterial microcompartment shell construction. Given the conservation among shell proteins of all bacterial microcompartments, these principles apply to functionally diverse organelles and can inform the design and engineering of shells with new functionalities.

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