Indications for a genetic basis for big bacteria and description of the giant cable bacterium Candidatus Electrothrix gigas sp. nov

Geelhoed et al. (2023). Microbiology Spectrum 11 (5)
Names (5)
Cell Biology Ecology General Immunology and Microbiology Genetics Infectious Diseases Microbiology (medical) Physiology
ABSTRACT Bacterial cells can vary greatly in size, from a few hundred nanometers to hundreds of micrometers in diameter. Filamentous cable bacteria also display substantial size differences, with filament diameters ranging from 0.4 to 8 µm. We analyzed the genomes of cable bacterium filaments from 11 coastal environments of which the resulting 23 new genomes represent 10 novel species-level clades of Candidatus Electrothrix and two clades that putatively represent novel genus-level diversity. Fluorescence in situ hybridization with a species-level probe showed that large-sized cable bacteria belong to a novel species with the proposed name Ca . Electrothrix gigas. Comparative genome analysis suggests genes that play a role in the construction or functioning of large cable bacteria cells: the genomes of Ca . Electrothrix gigas encode a novel actin-like protein as well as a species-specific gene cluster encoding four putative pilin proteins and a putative type II secretion platform protein, which are not present in other cable bacteria. The novel actin-like protein was also found in a number of other giant bacteria, suggesting there could be a genetic basis for large cell size. This actin-like protein (denoted big bacteria protein, Bbp) may have a function analogous to other actin proteins in cell structure or intracellular transport. We contend that Bbp may help overcome the challenges of diffusion limitation and/or morphological complexity presented by the large cells of Ca . Electrothrix gigas and other giant bacteria. IMPORTANCE In this study, we substantially expand the known diversity of marine cable bacteria and describe cable bacteria with a large diameter as a novel species with the proposed name Candidatus Electrothrix gigas. In the genomes of this species, we identified a gene that encodes a novel actin-like protein [denoted big bacteria protein (Bbp)]. The bbp gene was also found in a number of other giant bacteria, predominantly affiliated to Desulfobacterota and Gammaproteobacteria, indicating that there may be a genetic basis for large cell size. Thus far, mostly structural adaptations of giant bacteria, vacuoles, and other inclusions or organelles have been observed, which are employed to overcome nutrient diffusion limitation in their environment. In analogy to other actin proteins, Bbp could fulfill a structural role in the cell or potentially facilitate intracellular transport.
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