Protein-based organelles in bacteria: carboxysomes and related microcompartments

Sabine Heinhorst, University of Southern Mississippi
Gordon C. Cannon, University of Southern Mississippi
Jessup M. Shively, University of Southern Mississippi


Many bacteria contain intracellular microcompartments with outer shells that are composed of thousands of protein subunits and interiors that are filled with functionally related enzymes. These microcompartments serve as organelles by sequestering specific metabolic pathways in bacterial cells. The carboxysome, a prototypical bacterial microcompartment that is found in cyanobacteria and some chemoautotrophs, encapsulates ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RuBisCO) and carbonic anhydrase, and thereby enhances carbon fixation by elevating the levels of CO(2) in the vicinity of RuBisCO. Evolutionarily related, but functionally distinct, microcompartments are present in diverse bacteria. Although bacterial microcompartments were first observed more than 40 years ago, a detailed understanding of how they function is only now beginning to emerge.