Fei Cai

University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California, United States

Are you Fei Cai?

Claim your profile

Publications (14)88.99 Total impact

  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Bacterial microcompartments (BMCs) are self-assembling organelles composed entirely of protein. Depending on the enzymes they encapsulate, BMCs function in either inorganic carbon fixation (carboxysomes) or organic carbon utilization (metabolosomes). The hallmark feature of all BMCs is a selectively permeable shell formed by multiple paralogous proteins, each proposed to confer specific flux characteristics. Gene clusters encoding diverse BMCs are distributed broadly across bacterial phyla, providing a rich variety of building blocks with a predicted range of permeability properties. In theory, shell permeability can be engineered by modifying residues flanking the pores (symmetry axes) of hexameric shell proteins or by combining shell proteins from different types of BMCs into chimeric shells. We undertook both approaches to altering shell properties using the carboxysome as a model system. There are two types of carboxysomes, α and β. In both, the predominant shell protein(s) contain a single copy of the BMC domain (pfam00936), but they are significantly different in primary structure. Indeed, phylogenetic analysis shows that the two types of carboxysome shell proteins are more similar to their counterparts in metabolosomes than to each other. We solved high resolution crystal structures of the major shell proteins, CsoS1 and CcmK2 and the presumed minor shell protein CcmK4, representing both types of cyanobacterial carboxysomes and then tested the interchangeability. The in vivo study presented here confirms that both engineering pores to mimic those of other shell proteins and the construction of chimeric shells is feasible.
    ACS Synthetic Biology 08/2014; · 3.95 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Members of the phylum Cyanobacteria inhabit ecologically diverse environments. However, the CRISPR-Cas (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, CRISPR associated genes), an extremely adaptable defense system, has not been surveyed in this phylum. We analyzed 126 cyanobacterial genomes and, surprisingly, found CRISPR-Cas in the majority except the marine subclade (Synechococcus and Prochlorococcus), in which cyanophages are a known force shaping their evolution. Multiple observations of CRISPR loci in the absence of cas1/cas2 genes may represent an early stage of losing a CRISPR-Cas locus. Our findings reveal the widespread distribution of their role in the phylum Cyanobacteria and provide a first step to systematically understanding CRISPR-Cas systems in cyanobacteria.
    RNA biology 04/2013; 10(5). · 5.56 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The carboxysome is a bacterial organelle found in all cyanobacteria; it encapsulates CO2 fixation enzymes within a protein shell. The most abundant carboxysome shell protein contains a single bacterial microcompartment (BMC) domain. We present in vivo evidence that a hypothetical protein (dubbed CcmP) encoded in all β-cyanobacterial genomes is part of the carboxysome. We show that CcmP is a tandem-BMC domain protein, the first to be structurally characterized from a β-carboxysome. CcmP forms a dimer of tightly stacked trimers, resulting in a nano-compartment-containing shell protein that mayweakly bind 3-phosphoglycerate (3PGA), the product of CO2 fixation. The trimers have a large central pore through which metabolites presumably pass into the carboxysome. Conserved residues surrounding the pore have alternate side-chain conformations suggesting that it can be open or closed. Furthermore, CcmP and its orthologs in α-cyanobacterial genomes form a distinct clade of shell proteins. Members of this subgroup are also found in numerous heterotrophic BMC-associated gene clusters encoding functionally diverse bacterial organelles, suggesting that the potential to form a nanocompartment within a micro-compartment shell is widespread. Given that carboxysomes and architecturally-related bacterial organelles are the subject of intense interest for applications in synthetic biology/metabolic engineering, our results describe a new type of building block with which to functionalize BMC shells.
    Journal of Biological Chemistry 04/2013; · 4.65 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The cyanobacterial phylum encompasses oxygenic photosynthetic prokaryotes of a great breadth of morphologies and ecologies; they play key roles in global carbon and nitrogen cycles. The chloroplasts of all photosynthetic eukaryotes can trace their ancestry to cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria also attract considerable interest as platforms for "green" biotechnology and biofuels. To explore the molecular basis of their different phenotypes and biochemical capabilities, we sequenced the genomes of 54 phylogenetically and phenotypically diverse cyanobacterial strains. Comparison of cyanobacterial genomes reveals the molecular basis for many aspects of cyanobacterial ecophysiological diversity, as well as the convergence of complex morphologies without the acquisition of novel proteins. This phylum-wide study highlights the benefits of diversity-driven genome sequencing, identifying more than 21,000 cyanobacterial proteins with no detectable similarity to known proteins, and foregrounds the diversity of light-harvesting proteins and gene clusters for secondary metabolite biosynthesis. Additionally, our results provide insight into the distribution of genes of cyanobacterial origin in eukaryotic nuclear genomes. Moreover, this study doubles both the amount and the phylogenetic diversity of cyanobacterial genome sequence data. Given the exponentially growing number of sequenced genomes, this diversity-driven study demonstrates the perspective gained by comparing disparate yet related genomes in a phylum-wide context and the insights that are gained from it.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 12/2012; · 9.81 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Bacterial microcompartments are organelles composed of a protein shell that surrounds functionally related proteins. Bioinformatic analysis of sequenced genomes indicates that homologs to shell protein genes are widespread among bacteria and suggests that the shell proteins are capable of encapsulating diverse enzymes. The carboxysome is a bacterial microcompartment that enhances CO(2) fixation in cyanobacteria and some chemoautotrophs by sequestering ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase and carbonic anhydrase in the microcompartment shell. Here, we report the in vitro and in vivo characterization of CcmN, a protein of previously unknown function that is absolutely conserved in β-carboxysomal gene clusters. We show that CcmN localizes to the carboxysome and is essential for carboxysome biogenesis. CcmN has two functionally distinct regions separated by a poorly conserved linker. The N-terminal portion of the protein is important for interaction with CcmM and, by extension, ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase and the carbonic anhydrase CcaA, whereas the C-terminal peptide is essential for interaction with the carboxysome shell. Deletion of the peptide abolishes carboxysome formation, indicating that its interaction with the shell is an essential step in microcompartment formation. Peptides with similar length and sequence properties to those in CcmN can be bioinformatically detected in a large number of diverse proteins proposed to be encapsulated in functionally distinct microcompartments, suggesting that this peptide and its interaction with its cognate shell proteins are common features of microcompartment assembly.
    Journal of Biological Chemistry 03/2012; 287(21):17729-36. · 4.65 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Cyanobacteria, including members of the genus Prochlorococcus, contain icosahedral protein microcompartments known as carboxysomes that encapsulate multiple copies of the CO(2)-fixing enzyme ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RubisCO) in a thin protein shell that enhances the catalytic performance of the enzyme in part through the action of a shell-associated carbonic anhydrase. However, the exact mechanism by which compartmentation provides a catalytic advantage to the enzyme is not known. Complicating the study of cyanobacterial carboxysomes has been the inability to obtain homogeneous carboxysome preparations. This study describes the first successful purification and characterization of carboxysomes from the marine cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus marinus MED4. Because the isolated P. marinus MED4 carboxysomes were free from contaminating membrane proteins, their protein complement could be assessed. In addition to the expected shell proteins, the CsoS1D protein that is not encoded by the canonical cso gene clusters of α-cyanobacteria was found to be a low-abundance shell component. This finding and supporting comparative genomic evidence have important implications for carboxysome composition, structure, and function. Our study indicates that carboxysome composition is probably more complex than was previously assumed based on the gene complements of the classical cso gene clusters.
    Journal of bacteriology 12/2011; 194(4):787-95. · 3.94 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Bacterial Microcompartments (BMCs) are organelles composed of a polyhedral protein shell that encapsulates metabolically related enzymes. The best characterized BMC, the carboxysome, which functions to enhance CO2 fixation by D-ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RubisCO), is found in all cyanobacteria. It is an essential part of the cyanobacterial CO2 concentrating mechanism. The shell of BMCs is composed of small (∼100 amino acids) proteins with a conserved primary structure known as the BMC domain. Proteins that contain BMC domains were shown to form hexamers that assemble in layers to form the facets of BMC shells. Previous structural models of the carboxysome shell were built from proteins which contain a single BMC domain. Recently, a new carboxysome shell protein was detected bioinformatically in Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus species. The crystal structure of this protein, CsoS1D, unexpectedly was the first tandem BMC domain protein structurally characterized. These data, together with the transcriptomic evidence suggested that CsoS1D is a novel alpha-carboxysome shell protein with unique functionally important features. Here we used bioinformatic and comparative structural modeling to show that a hypothetical protein found in all beta cyanobacterial genomes is the ortholog of CsoS1D. We also discuss observations of other tandem BMC domain proteins, and we propose the hypothesis that the carboxysome shell may be a dynamic structure that responds to the environmental conditions within the cell.
    09/2011: pages 345-356;
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Bacterial microcompartments (BMCs) are polyhedral bodies, composed entirely of proteins, that function as organelles in bacteria; they promote subcellular processes by encapsulating and co-localizing targeted enzymes with their substrates. The best-characterized BMC is the carboxysome, a central part of the carbon-concentrating mechanism that greatly enhances carbon fixation in cyanobacteria and some chemoautotrophs. Here we report the first structural insights into the carboxysome of Prochlorococcus, the numerically dominant cyanobacterium in the world's oligotrophic oceans. Bioinformatic methods, substantiated by analysis of gene expression data, were used to identify a new carboxysome shell component, CsoS1D, in the genome of Prochlorococcus strain MED4; orthologs were subsequently found in all cyanobacteria. Two independent crystal structures of Prochlorococcus MED4 CsoS1D reveal three features not seen in any BMC-domain protein structure solved to date. First, CsoS1D is composed of a fused pair of BMC domains. Second, this double-domain protein trimerizes to form a novel pseudohexameric building block for incorporation into the carboxysome shell, and the trimers further dimerize, forming a two-tiered shell building block. Third, and most strikingly, the large pore formed at the 3-fold axis of symmetry appears to be gated. Each dimer of trimers contains one trimer with an open pore and one whose pore is obstructed due to side-chain conformations of two residues that are invariant among all CsoS1D orthologs. This is the first evidence of the potential for gated transport across the carboxysome shell and reveals a new type of building block for BMC shells.
    Journal of Molecular Biology 04/2009; 392(2):319-33. · 3.91 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Carboxysomes are polyhedral protein microcompartments found in many autotrophic bacteria; they encapsulate the CO(2) fixing enzyme, ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RubisCO) within a thin protein shell and provide an environment that enhances the catalytic capabilities of the enzyme. Two types of shell protein constituents are common to carboxysomes and related microcompartments of heterotrophic bacteria, and the genes for these proteins are found in a large variety of bacteria. We have created a Halothiobacillus neapolitanus knockout mutant that does not produce the two paralogous CsoS4 proteins thought to occupy the vertices of the icosahedral carboxysomes and related microcompartments. Biochemical and ultrastructural analyses indicated that the mutant predominantly forms carboxysomes of normal appearance, in addition to some elongated microcompartments. Despite their normal shape, purified mutant carboxysomes are functionally impaired, although the activities of the encapsulated enzymes are not negatively affected. In the absence of the CsoS4 proteins the carboxysome shell loses its limited permeability to CO(2) and is no longer able to provide the catalytic advantage RubisCO derives from microcompartmentalization. This study presents direct evidence that the diffusion barrier property of the carboxysome shell contributes significantly to the biological function of the carboxysome.
    PLoS ONE 01/2009; 4(10):e7521. · 3.53 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The carboxysome is a bacterial microcompartment that functions as a simple organelle by sequestering enzymes involved in carbon fixation. The carboxysome shell is roughly 800 to 1400 angstroms in diameter and is assembled from several thousand protein subunits. Previous studies have revealed the three-dimensional structures of hexameric carboxysome shell proteins, which self-assemble into molecular layers that most likely constitute the facets of the polyhedral shell. Here, we report the three-dimensional structures of two proteins of previously unknown function, CcmL and OrfA (or CsoS4A), from the two known classes of carboxysomes, at resolutions of 2.4 and 2.15 angstroms. Both proteins assemble to form pentameric structures whose size and shape are compatible with formation of vertices in an icosahedral shell. Combining these pentamers with the hexamers previously elucidated gives two plausible, preliminary atomic models for the carboxysome shell.
    Science 03/2008; 319(5866):1083-6. · 31.20 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Carboxysomes are polyhedral microcompartments that sequester the CO(2)-fixing enzyme ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase in many autotrophic bacteria. Their protein constituents are encoded by a set of tightly clustered genes that are thought to form an operon (the cso operon). This study is the first to systematically address transcriptional regulation of carboxysome protein expression. Quantification of transcript levels derived from the cso operon of Halothiobacillus neapolitanus, the sulfur oxidizer that has emerged as the model organism for carboxysome structural and functional studies, indicated that all cso genes are transcribed, albeit at different levels. Combined with comparative genomic evidence, this study supports the premise that the cso gene cluster constitutes an operon. Characterization of transcript 5'- and 3'-ends and examination of likely regulatory sequences and secondary structure elements within the operon suggested potential strategies by which the vastly different levels of individual carboxysome proteins in the microcompartment could have arisen.
    Archives of Microbiology 03/2008; 189(2):141-50. · 1.91 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The carboxysome is a bacterial organelle that functions to enhance the efficiency of CO2 fixation by encapsulating the enzymes ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RuBisCO) and carbonic anhydrase. The outer shell of the carboxysome is reminiscent of a viral capsid, being constructed from many copies of a few small proteins. Here we describe the structure of the shell protein CsoS1A from the chemoautotrophic bacterium Halothiobacillus neapolitanus. The CsoS1A protein forms hexameric units that pack tightly together to form a molecular layer, which is perforated by narrow pores. Sulfate ions, soaked into crystals of CsoS1A, are observed in the pores of the molecular layer, supporting the idea that the pores could be the conduit for negatively charged metabolites such as bicarbonate, which must cross the shell. The problem of diffusion across a semiporous protein shell is discussed, with the conclusion that the shell is sufficiently porous to allow adequate transport of small molecules. The molecular layer formed by CsoS1A is similar to the recently observed layers formed by cyanobacterial carboxysome shell proteins. This similarity supports the argument that the layers observed represent the natural structure of the facets of the carboxysome shell. Insights into carboxysome function are provided by comparisons of the carboxysome shell to viral capsids, and a comparison of its pores to the pores of transmembrane protein channels.
    PLoS Biology 07/2007; 5(6):e144. · 12.69 Impact Factor
  • Source
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: In cyanobacteria and many chemolithotrophic bacteria, the CO(2)-fixing enzyme ribulose 1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RubisCO) is sequestered into polyhedral protein bodies called carboxysomes. The carboxysome is believed to function as a microcompartment that enhances the catalytic efficacy of RubisCO by providing the enzyme with its substrate, CO(2), through the action of the shell protein CsoSCA, which is a novel carbonic anhydrase. In the work reported here, the biochemical properties of purified, recombinant CsoSCA were studied, and the catalytic characteristics of the carbonic anhydrase for the CO(2) hydration and bicarbonate dehydration reactions were compared with those of intact and ruptured carboxysomes. The low apparent catalytic rates measured for CsoSCA in intact carboxysomes suggest that the protein shell acts as a barrier for the CO(2) that has been produced by CsoSCA through directional dehydration of cytoplasmic bicarbonate. This CO(2) trap provides the sequestered RubisCO with ample substrate for efficient fixation and constitutes a means by which microcompartmentalization enhances the catalytic efficiency of this enzyme.
    Journal of Bacteriology 01/2007; 188(23):8087-94. · 3.19 Impact Factor
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: The carboxysome is a bacterial organelle that functions to enhance the efficiency of CO2 fixation by encapsulating the enzymes ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RuBisCO) and carbonic anhydrase. The outer shell of the carboxysome is reminiscent of a viral capsid, being constructed from many copies of a few small proteins. Here we describe the structure of the shell protein CsoS1A from the chemoautotrophic bacterium Halothiobacillus neapolitanus. The CsoS1A protein forms hexameric units that pack tightly together to form a molecular layer, which is perforated by narrow pores. Sulfate ions, soaked into crystals of CsoS1A, are observed in the pores of the molecular layer, supporting the idea that the pores could be the conduit for negatively charged metabolites such as bicarbonate, which must cross the shell. The problem of diffusion across a semiporous protein shell is discussed, with the conclusion that the shell is sufficiently porous to allow adequate transport of small molecules. The molecular layer formed by CsoS1A is similar to the recently observed layers formed by cyanobacterial carboxysome shell proteins. This similarity supports the argument that the layers observed represent the natural structure of the facets of the carboxysome shell. Insights into carboxysome function are provided by comparisons of the carboxysome shell to viral capsids, and a comparison of its pores to the pores of transmembrane protein channels. Citation: Tsai Y, Sawaya MR, Cannon GC, Cai F, Williams EB, et al. (2007) Structural analysis of CsoS1A and the protein shell of the Halothiobacillus neapolitanus carboxysome.

Publication Stats

373 Citations
88.99 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2013
    • University of California, Berkeley
      • Department of Plant and Microbial Biology
      Berkeley, California, United States
  • 2008–2009
    • University of Southern Mississippi
      • Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
      Hattiesburg, MS, United States
  • 2007–2008
    • University of California, Los Angeles
      • Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
      Los Angeles, CA, United States
    • Clemson University
      • Department of Genetics and Biochemistry
      Anderson, Indiana, United States