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Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2006 May;70(5):517-25. Epub 2006 Mar 9.

Polyhedral organelles compartmenting bacterial metabolic processes.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA.


Bacterial polyhedral organelles are extremely large macromolecular complexes consisting of metabolic enzymes encased within a multiprotein shell that is somewhat reminiscent of a viral capsid. Recent investigations suggest that polyhedral organelles are widely used by bacteria for optimizing metabolic processes. The distribution and diversity of these unique structures has been underestimated because many are not formed during growth on standard laboratory media and because electron microscopy is required for their observation. However, recent physiological studies and genomic analyses tentatively indicate seven functionally distinct organelles distributed among over 40 genera of bacteria. Functional studies conducted thus far are consistent with the idea that polyhedral organelles act as microcompartments that enhance metabolic processes by selectively concentrating specific metabolites. Relatively little is known about how this is achieved at the molecular level. Possible mechanisms include regulation of enzyme activity or efficiency, substrate channeling, a selectively permeable protein shell, and/or differential solubility of metabolites within the organelle. Given their complexity and distinctive structure, it would not be surprising if aspects of their biochemical mechanism are unique. Therefore, the unusual structure of polyhedral organelles raises intriguing questions about their assembly, turnover, and molecular evolution, very little of which is understood.

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