Global and Targeted Lipid Analysis of Gemmata obscuriglobus Reveals the Presence of Lipopolysaccharide, a Signature of the Classical Gram-Negative Outer Membrane

J Bacteriol. 2015 Oct 19;198(2):221-36. doi: 10.1128/JB.00517-15. Print 2016 Jan 15.


Planctomycete bacteria possess many unusual cellular properties, contributing to a cell plan long considered to be unique among the bacteria. However, data from recent studies are more consistent with a modified Gram-negative cell plan. A key feature of the Gram-negative plan is the presence of an outer membrane (OM), for which lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is a signature molecule. Despite genomic evidence for an OM in planctomycetes, no biochemical verification has been reported. We attempted to detect and characterize LPS in the planctomycete Gemmata obscuriglobus. We obtained direct evidence for LPS and lipid A using electrophoresis and differential staining. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) compositional analysis of LPS extracts identified eight different 3-hydroxy fatty acids (3-HOFAs), 2-keto 3-deoxy-d-manno-octulosonic acid (Kdo), glucosamine, and hexose and heptose sugars, a chemical profile unique to Gram-negative LPS. Combined with molecular/structural information collected from matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization-time of flight (MALDI-TOF) MS analysis of putative intact lipid A, these data led us to propose a heterogeneous hexa-acylated lipid A structure (multiple-lipid A species). We also confirmed previous reports of G. obscuriglobus whole-cell fatty acid (FA) and sterol compositions and detected a novel polyunsaturated FA (PUFA). Our confirmation of LPS, and by implication an OM, in G. obscuriglobus raises the possibility that other planctomycetes possess an OM. The pursuit of this question, together with studies of the structural connections between planctomycete LPS and peptidoglycans, will shed more light on what appears to be a planctomycete variation on the Gram-negative cell plan.

Importance: Bacterial species are classified as Gram positive or negative based on their cell envelope structure. For 25 years, the envelope of planctomycete bacteria has been considered a unique exception, as it lacks peptidoglycan and an outer membrane (OM). However, the very recent detection of peptidoglycan in planctomycete species has provided evidence for a more conventional cell wall and raised questions about other elements of the cell envelope. Here, we report direct evidence of lipopolysaccharide in the planctomycete G. obscuriglobus, suggesting the presence of an OM and supporting the proposal that the planctomycete cell envelope is an extension of the canonical Gram-negative plan. This interpretation features a convoluted cytoplasmic membrane and expanded periplasmic space, the functions of which provide an intriguing avenue for future investigation.

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

  • Cell Membrane / chemistry*
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / chemistry
  • Lipid A / chemistry
  • Lipopolysaccharides / chemistry
  • Lipopolysaccharides / physiology*
  • Planctomycetales / classification*
  • Planctomycetales / cytology
  • Planctomycetales / physiology*


  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Lipid A
  • Lipopolysaccharides