Computational and biochemical methods to measure the activity of carboxysomes and protein organelles in vivo.

Jian Wei Tay and Jeffrey C. Cameron

Methods in Enzymology , (2022)


Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic microorganisms that play important ecological roles as major contributors to global nutrient cycles. Cyanobacteria are highly efficient in carrying out oxygenic photosynthesis because they possess carboxysomes, a class of bacterial microcompartments (BMC) in which a polyhedral protein shell encapsulates the enzymes ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RuBisCO) and carbonic anhydrase and functions as the key component of the cyanobacterial CO2-concentrating mechanism (CCM). Elevated CO2 levels within the carboxysome shell as a result of carbonic anhydrase activity increase the efficiency of RuBisCO. Yet, there remain many questions regarding the flux or exclusion of metabolites across the shell and how the activity of BMCs varies over time. These questions have been difficult to address using traditional ensemble techniques due to the heterogeneity of BMCs extracted from their native hosts or with heterologous expression. In this chapter, we describe a method to film and extract quantitative information about carboxysome activity using molecular biology and live cell, timelapse microscopy. In our method, the production of carboxysomes is first controlled by deleting the native genes required for carboxysome assembly and then re-introducing them under the control of an inducible promoter. This system enables carboxysomes to be tracked through multiple generations of cells and provides a way to quantify the total biomass accumulation attributed to a single carboxysome. While the method presented here was developed specifically for carboxysomes, it could be modified to track and quantify the activity of bacterial microcompartments in general.

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