Origin and Evolution of Carboxysome Positioning Systems in Cyanobacteria

Mol Biol Evol. 2020 May 1;37(5):1434-1451. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msz308.


Carboxysomes are protein-based organelles that are essential for allowing cyanobacteria to fix CO2. Previously, we identified a two-component system, McdAB, responsible for equidistantly positioning carboxysomes in the model cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus PCC 7942 (MacCready JS, Hakim P, Young EJ, Hu L, Liu J, Osteryoung KW, Vecchiarelli AG, Ducat DC. 2018. Protein gradients on the nucleoid position the carbon-fixing organelles of cyanobacteria. eLife 7:pii:e39723). McdA, a ParA-type ATPase, nonspecifically binds the nucleoid in the presence of ATP. McdB, a novel factor that directly binds carboxysomes, displaces McdA from the nucleoid. Removal of McdA from the nucleoid in the vicinity of carboxysomes by McdB causes a global break in McdA symmetry, and carboxysome motion occurs via a Brownian-ratchet-based mechanism toward the highest concentration of McdA. Despite the importance for cyanobacteria to properly position their carboxysomes, whether the McdAB system is widespread among cyanobacteria remains an open question. Here, we show that the McdAB system is widespread among β-cyanobacteria, often clustering with carboxysome-related components, and is absent in α-cyanobacteria. Moreover, we show that two distinct McdAB systems exist in β-cyanobacteria, with Type 2 systems being the most ancestral and abundant, and Type 1 systems, like that of S. elongatus, possibly being acquired more recently. Lastly, all McdB proteins share the sequence signatures of a protein capable of undergoing liquid-liquid phase separation. Indeed, we find that representatives of both McdB types undergo liquid-liquid phase separation in vitro, the first example of a ParA-type ATPase partner protein to exhibit this behavior. Our results have broader implications for understanding carboxysome evolution, biogenesis, homeostasis, and positioning in cyanobacteria.

Keywords: McdAB; ParAB; carboxysomes; cyanobacteria; subcellular organization.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Carbon Cycle
  • Cyanobacteria / genetics*
  • Cytoplasmic Structures*
  • Synechococcus


  • Bacterial Proteins

Supplementary concepts

  • Synechococcus elongatus