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Biochemists reveal details of mysterious bacterial microcompartments
Date:2/21/2008

UCLA biochemists and colleagues have answered an important question about the structure of microcompartments the mysterious molecular machines that seem to be present in a wide variety of pathogens and other bacteria.

In the Feb. 22 issue of the journal Science, the biochemists report how the microcompartment structure closes in three dimensions, forming a shell around the enzymes encased inside.

If scientists could prevent or disrupt the formation of these microcompartments, they could probably render the bacteria harmless, said research co-author Todd O. Yeates, UCLA professor of chemistry and biochemistry and a member of the UCLADepartment of Energy Institute of Genomics and Proteomics. They do not yet know how to do this, but the current research may provide a framework for targeting microcompartments.

Yeates and his colleagues have identified the proteins that play the critical role in how the structure folds in the carboxysome, a protein shell that is the best-known and most-studied microcompartment. The shell has a structure like a soccer ball or the large, iconic dome structure at the Walt Disney World's Epcot Center.

"A soccer ball has hexagons and 12 pentagons at the corners; the pentagons are essential to close the structure," said Yeates, who is also a member of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA and UCLA's Molecular Biology Institute. "The Epcot Center at Walt Disney World has Spaceship Earth, a well-known dome structure composed of triangles that fit into hexagons, but on closer inspection you will find 12 locations where only five triangles come together; the same is true of the Buckminster Fuller-type domes in the desert and many viral structures.

"This principle of closing a structure by combining a large number of hexagons with a small number of pentagons to create a piece of curvature has been understood by architects, molecular biologists studying viruses and soccer ball ma
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Contact: Stuart Wolpert
swolpert@support.ucla.edu
310-206-0511
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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