Type IV pili (Tfp), which are key virulence factors in many bacterial pathogens, define a large group of multipurpose filamentous nanomachines widespread in Bacteria and Archaea. Tfp biogenesis is a complex multistep process, which relies on macromolecular assemblies composed of 15 conserved proteins in model gram-negative species. To improve our limited understanding of the molecular mechanisms of filament assembly, we have used a synthetic biology approach to reconstitute, in a nonnative heterologous host, a minimal machinery capable of building Tfp. Here we show that eight synthetic genes are sufficient to promote filament assembly and that the corresponding proteins form a macromolecular complex at the cytoplasmic membrane, which we have purified and characterized biochemically. Our results contribute to a better mechanistic understanding of the assembly of remarkable dynamic filaments nearly ubiquitous in prokaryotes.
Keywords: filament assembly; synthetic biology; type IV filamentous nanomachines; type IV pili.