New insight into bacterial DNA packing

New Berkeley Lab discovery provides a target for developing strategies to control microbial behavior.


Gene begins quick adaptation once bacteria are put in different environments, such as one that is more acidic or anaerobic. This happens because the proteins making up their chromosome can pack and unpack rapidly.

Scientists at the Berkeley Lab Captured this process at the molecular level using advanced imaging techniques.

Scientists used multiple high-powered X-ray techniques to image the process in E. coli bacteria at the micro-, meso-, and nanoscales. The imaging technique they developed enabled them to visualize the bacteria’s chromosome at higher resolutions than ever before, and without the need for labeling, which slows down the process but is required by most other techniques.

Change in the architecture of the bacterial chromosome during the adaptation to an acidic environment is controlled by the DNA binding protein called HU and its interaction with DNA.
Credit: Michal Hammel/Berkeley Lab

Michal Hammel, the corresponding author of the paper and a research scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging (MBIB) Division, said, “We now understand how the packing of the DNA is controlled by the DNA binding proteins, called HU, interacting with each other. So now we can try to figure out how to control it, how to inhibit or accelerate the packing of the DNA. If you can change the packing of DNA, you can change bacterial behavior; then, you can start developing alternative approaches to fighting bacterial infections.”

The team included Carolyn Larabell, MBIB faculty scientist, and director of the National Center for X-ray Tomography at the ALS, and the lead authors were Soumya Govinda Remesh and Subhash Verma of the National Cancer Institute.

Journal Reference:
  1. Remesh, S.G., Verma, S.C., Chen, J. et al. Nucleoid remodeling during environmental adaptation is regulated by HU-dependent DNA bundling. Nat Commun 11, 2905 (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-16724-5
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