Heidelberg, 27 November 2009 What are the bare essentials of life, the indispensable ingredients required to produce a cell that can survive on its own? Can we describe the molecular anatomy of a cell, and understand how an entire organism functions as a system? These are just some of the questions that scientists in a partnership between the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany, and the Centre de Regulacio Genmica (CRG) in Barcelona, Spain, set out to address. In three papers published back-to-back today in Science, they provide the first comprehensive picture of a minimal cell, based on an extensive quantitative study of the biology of the bacterium that causes atypical pneumonia, Mycoplasma pneumoniae. The study uncovers fascinating novelties relevant to bacterial biology and shows that even the simplest of cells is more complex than expected.
Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a small, single-cell bacterium that causes atypical pneumonia in humans. It is also one of the smallest prokaryotes organisms whose cells have no nucleus that don't depend on a host's cellular machinery to reproduce. This is why the six research groups which set out to characterize a minimal cell in a project headed by scientists Peer Bork, Anne-Claude Gavin and Luis Serrano chose M. pneumoniae as a model: it is complex enough to survive on its own, but small and, theoretically, simple enough to represent a minimal cell and to enable a global analysis.
A network of research groups at EMBL's Structural and Computational Biology Unit and CRG's EMBL-CRG Systems Biology Partnership Unit approached the bacterium at three different levels. One team of scientists described M. pneumoniae's transcriptome, identifying all the RNA molecules, or transcripts, produced from its DNA, under various environmental conditions. Another defined all the metabolic reactions that occurred in it, collectively known as its metabolo
|Contact: Sonia Furtado|
European Molecular Biology Laboratory