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Topologically-guided continuous protein crystallization controls bacterial surface layer self-assembly
Comerci, C. J., Herrmann, J., Yoon, J., Jabbarpour, F., Zhou, X., Nomellini, J. F., ... & Moerner, W. E.
Biopolymers in vivo, Cellular microbiology, Nanoscale biophysics, Single-molecule biophysics
Many bacteria and most archaea possess a crystalline protein surface layer (S-layer), which surrounds their growing and topologically complicated outer surface. Constructing a macromolecular structure of this scale generally requires localized enzymatic machinery, but a regulatory framework for S-layer assembly has not been identified. By labeling, superresolution imaging, and tracking the S-layer protein (SLP) from C. crescentus, we show that 2D protein self-assembly is sufficient to build and maintain the S-layer in living cells by efficient protein crystal nucleation and growth. We propose a model supported by single-molecule tracking whereby randomly secreted SLP monomers diffuse on the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) outer membrane until incorporated at the edges of growing 2D S-layer crystals. Surface topology creates crystal defects and boundaries, thereby guiding S-layer assembly. Unsupervised assembly poses challenges for therapeutics targeting S-layers. However, protein crystallization as an evolutionary driver rationalizes S-layer diversity and raises the potential for biologically inspired self-assembling macromolecular nanomaterials.