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Phosphoethanolamine cellulose: A naturally produced chemically modified cellulose

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Science  19 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6373, pp. 334-338
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao4096

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A naturally modified cellulose

Cellulose is the most abundant biopolymer on Earth and an important component of bacterial biofilms. Thongsomboon et al. used solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to identify a naturally derived, chemically modified cellulose, phosphoethanolamine cellulose (see the Perspective by Galperin and Shalaeva). They went on to identify the genetic basis and molecular signaling involved in introducing this modification in bacteria, which regulates biofilm matrix architecture and function. This discovery has implications for understanding bacterial biofilms and for the generation of new cellulosic materials.

Science, this issue p. 334; see also p. 276

Abstract

Cellulose is a major contributor to the chemical and mechanical properties of plants and assumes structural roles in bacterial communities termed biofilms. We find that Escherichia coli produces chemically modified cellulose that is required for extracellular matrix assembly and biofilm architecture. Solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy of the intact and insoluble material elucidates the zwitterionic phosphoethanolamine modification that had evaded detection by conventional methods. Installation of the phosphoethanolamine group requires BcsG, a proposed phosphoethanolamine transferase, with biofilm-promoting cyclic diguanylate monophosphate input through a BcsE-BcsF-BcsG transmembrane signaling pathway. The bcsEFG operon is present in many bacteria, including Salmonella species, that also produce the modified cellulose. The discovery of phosphoethanolamine cellulose and the genetic and molecular basis for its production offers opportunities to modulate its production in bacteria and inspires efforts to biosynthetically engineer alternatively modified cellulosic materials.

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