Atmospheric carbon dioxide is at the highest level in the past 800,000 years, therefore, understanding carbon fixation mechanisms has become very important. Almost half of global carbon remediation is done by photosynthetic cyanobacteria that concentrate the machinery required to fix carbon dioxide into organelles made entirely of protein called carboxysomes. Despite their importance to the global carbon cycle, the factors controlling carboxysome inheritance is unclear. This research will elucidate the trafficking mechanisms of carboxysomes so as to understand how this vital organelle is maintained in a cell population. An understanding of the basic biological mechanisms by which carboxysomes are inherited will provide a means to utilize carboxysomes for synthetic biology applications. Toward this end, this project will further the NSF's mission of expanding science and engineering research potential by improving natural carbon fixation; thus, this project offers a major societal benefit. The project also has broad impacts on education, engaging the public, and increasing scientific literacy by giving the public an appreciation of how bacterial function can have global implications.
While eukaryotic organelles are organized by the cytoskeleton, it is unknown how bacterial organelles are spatially regulated. In the cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus, carboxysomes are evenly spaced along the cell length, which ensures their inheritance. The mechanism governing this distribution is unknown. The research will contribute the first mechanistic understanding of a trafficking system responsible for the inheritance of carboxysomes. The Vecchiarelli lab will employ biochemistry, genetics, mathematically modelling and quantitative microscopy to study the molecular basis of carboxysome organization.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.