Structural, mass and elemental analyses of storage granules in methanogenic archaeal cells

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SummaryStorage granules are an important component of metabolism in many organisms spanning the bacterial, eukaryal and archaeal domains, but systematic analysis of their organization inside cells is lacking. In this study, we identify and characterize granule-like inclusion bodies in a methanogenic archaeon,Methanospirillum hungatei, an anaerobic microorganism that plays an important role in nutrient recycling in the ecosystem. Using cryo electron microscopy, we show that granules in matureM. hungateiare amorphous in structure with a uniform size. Energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy analysis establishes that each granule is a polyphosphate body (PPB) that consists of high concentrations of phosphorous and oxygen, and increased levels of iron and magnesium. By scanning transmission electron tomography, we further estimate that the mass density within a PPB is a little less than metal titanium at room temperature and is about four times higher than that of the surrounding cytoplasm. Finally, three-dimensional cryo electron tomography reveals that PPBs are positioned off-centre in their radial locations relative to the cylindrical axis of the cell, and almost uniformly placed near cell ends. This positioning ability points to a genetic program that spatially and temporally directs the accumulation of polyphosphate into a storage granule, perhaps for energy-consuming activities, such as cell maintenance, division or motility.

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