Applied and Environmental Microbiology 80(7) , 2193-2205 (Apr 2014)
Bacterial microcompartments (BMCs) are organelles that encapsulate functionally linked enzymes within a proteinaceous shell. The prototypical example is the carboxysome, which functions in carbon fixation in cyanobacteria and some chemoautotrophs. It is increasingly apparent that diverse heterotrophic bacteria contain BMCs that are involved in catabolic reactions, and many of the BMCs are predicted to have novel functions. However, most of these putative organelles have not been experimentally characterized. In this study, we sought to discover the function of a conserved BMC gene cluster encoded in the majority of the sequenced planctomycete genomes. This BMC is especially notable for its relatively simple genetic composition, its remote phylogenetic position relative to characterized BMCs, and its apparent exclusivity to the enigmatic Verrucomicrobia and Planctomycetes. Members of the phylum Planctomycetes are known for their morphological dissimilarity to the rest of the bacterial domain: internal membranes, reproduction by budding, and lack of peptidoglycan. As a result, they are ripe for many discoveries, but currently the tools for genetic studies are very limited. We expanded the genetic toolbox for the planctomycetes and generated directed gene knockouts of BMC-related genes in Planctomyces limnophilus. A metabolic activity screen revealed that BMC gene products are involved in the degradation of a number of plant and algal cell wall sugars. Among these sugars, we confirmed that BMCs are formed and required for growth on L-fucose and L-rhamnose. Our results shed light on the functional diversity of BMCs as well as their ecological role in the planctomycetes, which are commonly associated with algae.