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Phagocytosis is a key eukaryotic feature, conserved from unicellular protists to animals, that enabled eukaryotes to feed on other organisms. It could also be a driving force behind endosymbiosis, a process by which α-proteobacteria and cyanobacteria evolved into mitochondria and plastids, respectively. Here we describe a planctomycete bacterium, 'Candidatus Uab amorphum', which is able to engulf other bacteria and small eukaryotic cells through a phagocytosis-like mechanism. Observations via light and electron microscopy suggest that this bacterium digests prey cells in specific compartments. With the possible exception of a gene encoding an actin-like protein, analysis of the 'Ca. Uab amorphum' genomic sequence does not reveal any genes homologous to eukaryotic phagocytosis genes, suggesting that cell engulfment in this microorganism is probably not homologous to eukaryotic phagocytosis. The discovery of this "phagotrophic" bacterium expands our understanding of the cellular complexity of prokaryotes, and may be relevant to the origin of eukaryotic cells.

Citation

Takashi Shiratori, Shigekatsu Suzuki, Yukako Kakizawa, Ken-Ichiro Ishida. Phagocytosis-like cell engulfment by a planctomycete bacterium. Nature communications. 2019 Dec 11;10(1):5529

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PMID: 31827088

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