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Scientists determine the structure of highly efficient light-harvesting molecules in green bacteria
Date:5/4/2009

tle andouille sausages. When you take cross-sections of andouille sausages, you see different patterns of meat and fat; no two sausages are alike in size or content, although there is some structure inside, nevertheless. Chlorosomes in green bacteria are like andouille sausages, and the variability in their compositions had prevented scientists from using X-ray crystallography to characterize the internal structure."

To get around this problem, the team used a combination of techniques to study the chlorosome. They used genetic techniques to create a mutant bacterium with a more regular internal structure, cryo-electron microscopy to identify the larger distance constraints for the chlorosome, solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to determine the structure of the chlorosome's component chlorophyll molecules, and modeling to bring together all of the pieces and create a final picture of the chlorosome.

First, the team created a mutant bacterium in order to determine why the chlorophyll molecules in green bacteria became increasingly complex over evolutionary time. To create the mutant, they inactivated three genes that green bacteria acquired late in their evolution. The team suspected that the genes were responsible for improving the bacteria's light-harvesting capabilities. "Essentially, we went backward in evolutionary time to an intermediate state in order to understand, in part, why green bacteria acquired these genes," Bryant said. The team found that the more evolved, wild-type bacteria grow faster at all light intensities than the mutant form. "Indeed, the reason that chlorophylls became more complex was to increase light-harvesting efficiency," said Bryant.

Next, the team isolated chlorosomes from the mutant and the wild-type forms of the bacteria and used cryo-electron microscopy -- a type of electron microscopy that is performed at super-cold cryogenic temperatures -- to take pictures of the chloros
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Contact: Barbara K. Kennedy
science@psu.edu
814-863-4682
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert  

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