Bacteria are single-cell organisms that reproduce by dividing in half. Proteins within these cells organize themselves in a number of fascinating ways during this process, including a recently discovered mechanism that makes the mesmerizing pattern of waves, or oscillations, you see in this video. Produced when the protein MinE chases the protein MinD from one end of the cell to the other, such oscillations are thought to center the cell’s division machinery so that its two new “daughter cells” will be the same size.
To study these dynamic patterns in greater detail, Anthony Vecchiarelli purified MinD and MinE proteins from the bacterium Escherichia coli. Vecchiarelli, who at the time was a postdoc in Kiyoshi Mizuuchi’s intramural lab at NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), labeled the proteins with fluorescent markers and placed them on a synthetic membrane, where their movements were then visualized by total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy. The proteins self-organized and generated dynamic spirals of waves: MinD (blue, left); MinE (red, right); and both MinD and MinE (purple, center) .
Dissecting how such patterns form outside of the cell is helping to unravel the oscillatory mechanism used inside the cell. While E. coli was the model used to produce this video—a recent winner in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s BioArt contest, many other microbes have similar proteins.
Vecchiarelli, Mizuuchi, and their colleagues have gone on to uncover what they think are the foundational principles governing this dynamic pattern of protein self-organization that appears to regulate positioning spatially during bacterial cell division .
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