The lives of microbes unfold at the micron scale, and their molecular machineries operate at the nanoscale. Their study at these resolutions is key toward achieving a better understanding of their ecology. We focus on cellulose degradation of the canonical Clostridium thermocellum system to comprehend how microbes build and use their cellulosomal machinery at these nanometer scales. Degradation of cellulose, the most abundant organic polymer on Earth, is instrumental to the global carbon cycle. We reveal that bacterial cells form 'cellulosome capsules' driven by catalytic product-dependent dynamics, which can increase the rate of hydrolysis. Biosynthesis of this energetically costly machinery and cell growth are decoupled at the single-cell level, hinting at a division-of-labor strategy through phenotypic heterogeneity. This novel observation highlights intrapopulation interactions as key to understanding rates of fiber degradation.
Keywords: Clostridium thermocellum; bacteria; cellulosome; infectious disease; microbiology; molecular biophysics; structural biology.