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A Genetic Strategy for Probing the Functional Diversity of Magnetosome Formation


Model genetic systems are invaluable, but limit us to understanding only a few organisms in detail, missing the variations in biological processes that are performed by related organisms. One such diverse process is the formation of magnetosome organelles by magnetotactic bacteria. Studies of model magnetotactic α-proteobacteria have demonstrated that magnetosomes are cubo-octahedral magnetite crystals that are synthesized within pre-existing membrane compartments derived from the inner membrane and orchestrated by a specific set of genes encoded within a genomic island. However, this model cannot explain all magnetosome formation, which is phenotypically and genetically diverse. For example, Desulfovibrio magneticus RS-1, a δ-proteobacterium for which we lack genetic tools, produces tooth-shaped magnetite crystals that may or may not be encased by a membrane with a magnetosome gene island that diverges significantly from those of the α-proteobacteria. To probe the functional diversity of magnetosome formation, we used modern sequencing technology to identify hits in RS-1 mutated with UV or chemical mutagens. We isolated and characterized mutant alleles of 10 magnetosome genes in RS-1, 7 of which are not found in the α-proteobacterial models. These findings have implications for our understanding of magnetosome formation in general and demonstrate the feasibility of applying a modern genetic approach to an organism for which classic genetic tools are not available.

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