Researchers ID protein responsible for gas vesicle clustering in bacteria

Finding could enable new synthetic biology applications

Patrick Kurp 
Yifan Dai

Gas vesicles are hollow structures made of protein found in the cells of certain microorganisms, and researchers believe they can be programmed for use in biomedical applications.

“Inside cells, gas vesicles are packed in a beautiful honeycomb pattern. How this pattern is formed has never been thoroughly understood. We are presenting the first identification of a protein that is responsible for this pattern, and we believe it can be very useful,” said George Lu, assistant professor of bioengineering and a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas scholar at Rice University.

Lu and colleagues from WashU and Duke have shared their findings in a paper published in Nature Microbiology.

Co-author Yifan Dai, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in Saint Louis, said they were drawn to the research with the question of why the vesicles can form in the honeycomb pattern.

With help from his WashU colleague Alex Holehouse and colleagues from Duke University, Ashutosh Chilkoti and Lingchong You, the team of researchers found that this pattern is the most efficient use of space and the cluster form plays a part in how it functions. 

Most notably, these protein clusters formed in subsaturated solution, a previously identified new form of biological structure, and that drives the organization of these vesicles. Bottom line, they found the function behind this mysterious new form.

Read more at the Rice University website.

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