Uncharacterized Bacterial Structures Revealed by Electron Cryotomography

J Bacteriol. 2017 Aug 8;199(17):e00100-17. doi: 10.1128/JB.00100-17. Print 2017 Sep 1.


Electron cryotomography (ECT) can reveal the native structure and arrangement of macromolecular complexes inside intact cells. This technique has greatly advanced our understanding of the ultrastructure of bacterial cells. We now view bacteria as structurally complex assemblies of macromolecular machines rather than as undifferentiated bags of enzymes. To date, our group has applied ECT to nearly 90 different bacterial species, collecting more than 15,000 cryotomograms. In addition to known structures, we have observed, to our knowledge, several uncharacterized features in these tomograms. Some are completely novel structures; others expand the features or species range of known structure types. Here, we present a survey of these uncharacterized bacterial structures in the hopes of accelerating their identification and study, and furthering our understanding of the structural complexity of bacterial cells.IMPORTANCE Bacteria are more structurally complex than is commonly appreciated. Here we present a survey of previously uncharacterized structures that we observed in bacterial cells by electron cryotomography, structures that will initiate new lines of research investigating their identities and roles.

Keywords: bacteria; bacterial ultrastructure; electron cryotomography; electron microscopy; uncharacterized structures.