We computationally study how an icosahedral shell assembles around hundreds of molecules. Such a process occurs during the formation of the carboxysome, a bacterial microcompartment that assembles around many copies of the enzymes ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase and carbonic anhydrase to facilitate carbon fixation in cyanobacteria. Our simulations identify two classes of assembly pathways leading to encapsulation of many-molecule cargoes. In one, shell assembly proceeds concomitantly with cargo condensation. In the other, the cargo first forms a dense globule; then, shell proteins assemble around and bud from the condensed cargo complex. Although the model is simplified, the simulations predict intermediates and closure mechanisms not accessible in experiments, and show how assembly can be tuned between these two pathways by modulating protein interactions. In addition to elucidating assembly pathways and critical control parameters for microcompartment assembly, our results may guide the reengineering of viruses as nanoreactors that self-assemble around their reactants.
- Nir Ben-Tal, Tel Aviv University, Israel
© 2016, Perlmutter et al.
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Long-range material transport is essential to maintain the physiological functions of multicellular organisms such as animals and plants. By contrast, material transport in bacteria is often short-ranged and limited by diffusion. Here we report a unique form of actively regulated long-range directed material transport in structured bacterial communities. Using Pseudomonas aeruginosa colonies as a model system, we discover that a large-scale and temporally evolving open channel system spontaneously develops in the colony via shear-induced banding. Fluid flows in the open channels support high-speed (up to 450 µm/s) transport of cells and outer membrane vesicles over centimeters, and help to eradicate colonies of a competing species Staphylococcus aureus. The open channels are reminiscent of human-made canals for cargo transport, and the channel flows are driven by interfacial tension mediated by cell-secreted biosurfactants. The spatial-temporal dynamics of fluid flows in the open channels are qualitatively described by flow profile measurement and mathematical modeling. Our findings demonstrate that mechanochemical coupling between interfacial force and biosurfactant kinetics can coordinate large-scale material transport in primitive life forms, suggesting a new principle to engineer self-organized microbial communities.
Foraging mammals exhibit a familiar yet poorly characterized phenomenon, ‘alternation’, a pause to sniff in the air preceded by the animal rearing on its hind legs or raising its head. Rodents spontaneously alternate in the presence of airflow, suggesting that alternation serves an important role during plume-tracking. To test this hypothesis, we combine fully resolved simulations of turbulent odor transport and Bellman optimization methods for decision-making under partial observability. We show that an agent trained to minimize search time in a realistic odor plume exhibits extensive alternation together with the characteristic cast-and-surge behavior observed in insects. Alternation is linked with casting and occurs more frequently far downwind of the source, where the likelihood of detecting airborne cues is higher relative to ground cues. Casting and alternation emerge as complementary tools for effective exploration with sparse cues. A model based on marginal value theory captures the interplay between casting, surging, and alternation.