Research Summary: Nanopods: A New Bacterial Structure and Mechanism for Deployment of Outer Membrane Vesicles



Bacterial outer membrane vesicles (OMV) are packets of periplasmic material that, via the proteins and other molecules they contain, project metabolic function into the environment. While OMV production is widespread in proteobacteria, they have been extensively studied only in pathogens, which inhabit fully hydrated environments. However, many (arguably most) bacterial habitats, such as soil, are only partially hydrated. In the latter, water is characteristically distributed as films on soil particles that are, on average thinner, than are typical OMV (ca. ≤10 nm water film vs. 20 to >200 nm OMV;).

Methodology/Principal Findings

We have identified a new bacterial surface structure, termed a “nanopod”, that is a conduit for projecting OMV significant distances (e.g., ≥6 µm) from the cell. Electron cryotomography was used to determine nanopod three-dimensional structure, which revealed chains of vesicles within an undulating, tubular element. By using immunoelectron microscopy, proteomics, heterologous expression and mutagenesis, the tubes were determined to be an assembly of a surface layer protein (NpdA), and the interior structures identified as OMV. Specific metabolic function(s) for nanopods produced by Delftia sp. Cs1-4 are not yet known. However, a connection with phenanthrene degradation is a possibility since nanopod formation was induced by growth on phenanthrene. Orthologs of NpdA were identified in three other genera of the Comamonadaceae family, and all were experimentally verified to form nanopods.


Nanopods are new bacterial organelles, and establish a new paradigm in the mechanisms by which bacteria effect long-distance interactions with their environment. Specifically, they create a pathway through which cells can effectively deploy OMV, and the biological activity these transmit, in a diffusion-independent manner. Nanopods would thus allow environmental bacteria to expand their metabolic sphere of influence in a manner previously unknown for these organisms.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 7-June-2011

Author(s): Shetty A., Chen S., Tocheva E., Jensen G., Hickey W.


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