Not only eukaryotes – Subcompartmens in protocells

Cellular subcompartments with specialized microenvironments has for long been seen as something unique to eukaryotic cells. However, recent findings point to that subcompartmentalizetion also can be found among bacteria and archaea as well. In the research paper Subcompartmentalization and Pseudo‐Division of Model Protocells, recently published in Small, Prof. Irep Gözen and coworkers at University of Oslo explore the ability of protocells to form membrane-enclosed subcompartments without using the complex biochemical machinery of living cells

In the paper, the researchers investigate how surface-associated vesicles form membrane invagination when calcium ion chelators are added or the vesicle is treated with heat. The researchers also probed the ability of the formed subcompartments to encapsulate molecules from the ambient environment by adding a fluorescein solution directly to individual protocells using BioPen. Their results show that the subcompartments are able to take up fluorescein from the surrounding. When the fluorescein delivery from the BioPen is switched of, the fluorescein concentration in the subcompartments in the calcium-depleted protocells quickly diminished, indicating that the compartments remained open to the environment. In the case of the heat-treated vesicles, the subcomparments to a larger extent retain the encapsulated fluorescein, indicating that the increased membrane fluidity produced by the elevated temperatures results in faster subcompartment growth and maturation and faster contraction of the membrane opening.

The authors argue that the presence of organelle-like compartments inside protocells have been overlooked due to the lack of proteins and membrane-shaping machinery. However, their results show that a vesicle-like compartment, a solid support and an aqueous environment constitute a sufficiently complex system to facilitate formation of subcompartments. Furthermore, the work by Gözen and coworkers demonstrate the power of single-cell and single-vesicle techniques in elucidating the underlying physical mechanisms behind fundamental biological processes. We are very happy that Prof. Gözen and coworkers have chosen to use BioPen in their important work and look forward to their future discoveries.

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