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Biochim Biophys Acta. 2013 Mar;1831(3):471-94. doi: 10.1016/j.bbalip.2012.08.007. Epub 2012 Aug 14.

A retrospective: use of Escherichia coli as a vehicle to study phospholipid synthesis and function.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Texas Medical School-Houston, Houston, TX 77030, USA. William.Dowhan@uth.tmc.edu


Although the study of individual phospholipids and their synthesis began in the 1920s first in plants and then mammals, it was not until the early 1960s that Eugene Kennedy using Escherichia coli initiated studies of bacterial phospholipid metabolism. With the base of information already available from studies of mammalian tissue, the basic blueprint of phospholipid biosynthesis in E. coli was worked out by the late 1960s. In 1970s and 1980s most of the enzymes responsible for phospholipid biosynthesis were purified and many of the genes encoding these enzymes were identified. By the late 1990s conditional and null mutants were available along with clones of the genes for every step of phospholipid biosynthesis. Most of these genes had been sequenced before the complete E. coli genome sequence was available. Strains of E. coli were developed in which phospholipid composition could be changed in a systematic manner while maintaining cell viability. Null mutants, strains in which phospholipid metabolism was artificially regulated, and strains synthesizing foreign lipids not found in E. coli have been used to this day to define specific roles for individual phospholipid. This review will trace the findings that have led to the development of E. coli as an excellent model system to study mechanisms underlying the synthesis and function of phospholipids that are widely applicable to other prokaryotic and eukaryotic systems. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Phospholipids and Phospholipid Metabolism.

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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