ending a 50-year mystery, scientists reveal how bacteria can move
Graphical abstract. Credit: Cell (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2022.08.009

University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers and their collaborators have solved a decades-old mystery about how E. coli and other bacteria are able to move.

Bacteria push themselves forward by coiling long, threadlike appendages into corkscrew shapes that act as makeshift propellers. But how exactly they do this has baffled scientists, because the “propellers” are made of a single protein.

An international team led by UVA’s Edward H. Egelman, Ph.D., a leader in the field of high-tech cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), has cracked the case. The researchers used cryo-EM and advanced computer modeling to reveal what no traditional light microscope could see: the strange structure of these propellers at the level of individual atoms.

“While models have existed for 50 years for how these filaments might form such regular coiled shapes, we have now determined the structure of these filaments in atomic detail,” said Egelman, of UVA’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. “We can show that these models were wrong, and our new understanding will help pave the way for technologies that could be based upon such miniature propellers.”

Blueprints for bacteria’s ‘supercoils’

Different bacteria have one or many appendages known as a flagellum, or, in the plural, flagella. A flagellum is made of thousands of subunits, but all these subunits are exactly the same. You might think that such a tail would be straight, or at best a bit flexible, but that would leave the bacteria unable to move.

That’s because such shapes can’t generate thrust. It takes a rotating, corkscrew-like propeller to push a bacterium forward. Scientists call the formation of this shape “supercoiling,” and now, after more than 50 years, they understand how bacteria do it.

Using cryo-EM, Egelman and his team found that the protein that makes up the flagellum can exist in 11 different states. It is the precise mixture of these states that causes the corkscrew shape to form.

It has been known that the propeller in bacteria is quite different than similar propellers used by hearty one-celled organisms called archaea. Archaea are found in some of the most extreme environments on Earth, such as in nearly boiling pools of acid, the very bottom of the ocean and in petroleum deposits deep in the ground.

Egelman and colleagues used cryo-EM to examine the flagella of one form of archaea, Saccharolobus islandicus, and found that the protein forming its flagellum exists in 10 different states. While the details were quite different than what the researchers saw in bacteria, the result was the same, with the filaments forming regular corkscrews.

They conclude that this is an example of “convergent evolution”—when nature arrives at similar solutions via very different means. This shows that even though bacteria and archaea’s propellers are similar in form and function, the organisms evolved those traits independently.

“As with birds, bats and bees, which have all independently evolved wings for flying, the evolution of bacteria and archaea has converged on a similar solution for swimming in both,” said Egelman, whose prior imaging work saw him inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors a scientist can receive. “Since these biological structures emerged on Earth billions of years ago, the 50 years that it has taken to understand them may not seem that long.”

The research was published in Cell. More information: Mark A.B. Kreutzberger et al, Convergent evolution in the supercoiling of prokaryotic flagellar filaments, Cell (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2022.08.009 Journal information: Cell

Provided by University of Virginia Citation: Ending a 50-year mystery, scientists reveal how bacteria can move (2022, September 27) retrieved 27 September 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-09-year-mystery-scientists-reveal-bacteria.html This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

TECH NEWS RELATED

Minor Facial Scars Do Not Have Negative Affects on First Impressions

Summary: Study reveals after healing, minor facial scars have little to no effect on ratings of attractiveness. In fact, some facial scars may be considered to make a person appear more attractive to others. Source: Wolters Kluwer Health  After healing, minor facial scars have little or no effect on ratings ...

View more: Minor Facial Scars Do Not Have Negative Affects on First Impressions

Post-lockdown auto emissions can't hide in the grass

Graduate student Cindy Yañez taking inventory of plant samples mailed in by community scientists for radiocarbon dating. Credit: C. Czimczik/UCI University of California scientists have a new way to demonstrate which neighborhoods returned to pre-pandemic levels of air pollution after COVID restrictions ended. Vehicle emissions are the biggest source ...

View more: Post-lockdown auto emissions can't hide in the grass

RULoans launches digital platform for partner on-boarding

ETtechRULoans Distribution Services on Monday launched its end-to-end digital platform for faster and seamless partner on-boarding as well as paperless and fully compliant loan file processing. The digital platform will power the company’s plans to take the loan disbursement to more than Rs 1,00,000 crore and channel partner network strength ...

View more: RULoans launches digital platform for partner on-boarding

Google opens London research centre for disability support tech

Google has opened a UK research and development centre to develop tech to support people with disabilities. The tech giant has joined forces with the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, and the charity Everyone Can, to develop the centre in London. ...

View more: Google opens London research centre for disability support tech

NetApp deepens APAC ties with new channel leader

Brenda Tan is tasked with defining NetApp’s APAC channel model.

View more: NetApp deepens APAC ties with new channel leader

Partech closes £103m seed fund, eyes UK startups

Paris-headquartered venture capital firm Partech has secured €120m (£103.1m) for its fourth seed fund. The oversubscribed Partech Entrepreneur IV fund received backing from 100 entrepreneur angels, family offices, multinational corporations and financial institutions. A spokesperson for Partech told UKTN that the UK is “definitely part of our European strategy”. Romain ...

View more: Partech closes £103m seed fund, eyes UK startups

Loss of key Apple AirPods account causes GoerTek profits to fall by 50% – 60%

Annual net profit for Apple supplier GoerTek in 2022 could fall by up to 60% compared to last year, according to its stock filling on Dec. 3. The company’s expected net profit for 2022 ranges from RMB 1.7 billion to RMB 2.14 billion ($240 million to $310 million). The ...

View more: Loss of key Apple AirPods account causes GoerTek profits to fall by 50% – 60%

Google claims that Apple Messages are stuck in the 1990s

Google is once again attacking Apple and its messaging platform, which the Mountain View company now claims is stuck in the 1990s. You guessed it, it specifically mentions Apple’s resistance to using RCS in a new blog post. We are not yet prepared to witness an agreement between these two ...

View more: Google claims that Apple Messages are stuck in the 1990s

Redmi K60 series specifications tipped ahead of impending launch

Vivo Y02 India launch tipped, here’s when its coming

OpenAI's new ChatGPT bot: 10 coolest things you can do with it

iQOO 11 series specifications, colors tipped via leaked poster

Robot suppliers continue capacity expansions in China despite instability, says DIGITIMES Research

GF and Intel semiconductor talent forgo are gifts to competitors

Vingroup partners Google Cloud to modernize group-wide SAP applications, accelerate global growth ambitions

Researchers harness bacteria-eating viruses to create powerful food decontamination spray

What does Polly say? Community science data reveal species differences in vocal learning by parrots

Volkswagen faces growing backlash in China over malfunctioning software in ID Series

Apple suppliers expand investment in India, look to dial down China operations

Putin ally Kudrin accepts tech giant Yandex's offer of advisory role

OTHER TECH NEWS

Top Car News Car News