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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Complexity is simple: proteins auto-assemble just naturally

Researchers from the United States have discovered that bacterial proteins self-assemble stochastically (that is: randomly) and not directed by any centralized force of any sort. This random system is probably also found in eukaryotic cells like ours.

In spite of this randomness, patterns emerge and the system just works fine, as Alan Turing had predicted for a different context some 60 years ago.

According to co-researcher Jan Liphardt:

Random lateral protein diffusion and protein-protein interactions are probably sufficient to generate the observed complex, ordered patterns. This simple stochastic self-assembly mechanism, which can create and maintain periodic structures in biological membranes without direct cytoskeletal involvement or active transport, may prove to be widespread in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.

Source: Science Daily

Research paper (open access): Greenfield D, McEvoy AL, Shroff H, Crooks GE, Wingreen NS, et al. (2009) Self-Organization of the Escherichia coli Chemotaxis Network Imaged with Super-Resolution Light Microscopy. PLoS Biol 7(6): e1000137. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000137

Author Summary:

Cells arrange their components—proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids—in organized and reproducible ways to optimize the activities of these components and, therefore, to improve cell efficiency and survival. Eukaryotic cells have a complex arrangement of subcellular structures such as membrane-bound organelles and cytoskeletal transport systems. However, subcellular organization is also important in prokaryotic cells, including rod-shaped bacteria such as E. coli, most of which lack such well-developed systems of organelles and motor proteins for transporting cellular cargoes. In fact, it has remained somewhat mysterious how bacteria are able to organize and spatially segregate their interiors. The E. coli chemotaxis network, a system important for the bacterial response to environmental cues, is one of the best-understood biological signal transduction pathways and serves as a useful model for studying bacterial spatial organization because its components display a nonrandom, periodic distribution in mature cells. Chemotaxis receptors aggregate and cluster into large sensory complexes that localize to the poles of bacteria. To understand how these clusters form and what controls their size and density, we use ultrahigh-resolution light microscopy, called photoactivated localization microscopy (PALM), to visualize individual chemoreceptors in single E. coli cells. From these high-resolution images, we determined that receptors are not actively distributed or attached to specific locations in cells. Instead, we show that random receptor diffusion and receptor–receptor interactions are sufficient to generate the observed complex, ordered pattern. This simple mechanism, termed stochastic self-assembly, may prove to be widespread in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells.

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