Recently, a research team from the State Key Laboratory of Microbial Metabolism and School of Life Science and Biotechnology, SJTU, published a paper titled “Formation and functionalization of membraneless compartments in Escherichia coli” on Nature Chemical Biology. Wei Shaopeng and Hu Chunfei, postgraduate students from SJTU, together with Associate Researcher Qian Zhigang, are the co-first authors. Prof. Xia Xiaoxia is the corresponding author. Prof Lee Sang-yeob from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and consulting professor of SJTU also made his contribution to the paper.
The research has been sponsored by National Natural Science Foundation of China (21674061, 21406138 and 31470216), and National Key R&D Program of China (2016YFE0204400).
Membraneless organelles formed by liquid–liquid phase separation of proteins or nucleic acids are involved in diverse biological processes in eukaryotes. However, such cellular compartments have yet to be discovered or created synthetically in prokaryotes. Here, we report the formation of liquid protein condensates inside the cells of prokaryotic Escherichia coli upon heterologous overexpression of intrinsically disordered proteins such as spider silk and resilin. In vitro reconstitution under conditions that mimic intracellular physiologically crowding environments of E. coli revealed that the condensates are formed via liquid–liquid phase separation. We also show functionalization of these condensates via targeted colocalization of cargo proteins to create functional membraneless compartments able to fluoresce and to catalyze biochemical reactions. The ability to form and functionalize membraneless compartments may serve as a versatile tool to develop artificial organelles with on-demand functions in prokaryotes for applications in synthetic biology.