The structure of isolated Synechococcus strain WH8102 carboxysomes as revealed by electron cryotomography

J Mol Biol. 2007 Sep 21;372(3):764-73. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2007.06.059. Epub 2007 Jun 29.


Carboxysomes are organelle-like polyhedral bodies found in cyanobacteria and many chemoautotrophic bacteria that are thought to facilitate carbon fixation. Carboxysomes are bounded by a proteinaceous outer shell and filled with ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RuBisCO), the first enzyme in the CO(2) fixation pathway, but exactly how they enhance carbon fixation is unclear. Here we report the three-dimensional structure of purified carboxysomes from Synechococcus species strain WH8102 as revealed by electron cryotomography. We found that while the sizes of individual carboxysomes in this organism varied from 114 nm to 137 nm, surprisingly, all were approximately icosahedral. There were on average approximately 250 RuBisCOs per carboxysome, organized into three to four concentric layers. Some models of carboxysome function depend on specific contacts between individual RuBisCOs and the shell, but no evidence of such contacts was found: no systematic patterns of connecting densities or RuBisCO positions against the shell's presumed hexagonal lattice could be discerned, and simulations showed that packing forces alone could account for the layered organization of RuBisCOs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cryoelectron Microscopy / methods*
  • Organelle Size
  • Organelles / enzymology
  • Organelles / ultrastructure*
  • Ribulose-Bisphosphate Carboxylase / chemistry
  • Synechococcus / cytology*
  • Synechococcus / isolation & purification
  • Synechococcus / ultrastructure*
  • Tomography / methods*


  • Ribulose-Bisphosphate Carboxylase