Welcome to the group "The Bacterial Cytoskeleton" at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of the Medical Research Council, UK. We investigate the structure and function of filamentous proteins in bacteria that participate in phenomena such as cell division, chromosome segregation, cell wall synthesis and intracellular motility.


Until the mid 1990s it was thought that bacteria lack a cytoskeleton

It was thought that homologues of actin and tubulin (forming F-actin and microtubules in eukaryotes, respectively) are missing from all bacteria and archaea.

Stacks Image 8
We could show that FtsZ and MreB, present in a vast number of bacteria, are clear homologues of eukaryotic tubulin and actin. This is supported by a similar three-dimensional structure of the monomer subunits, similar protofilaments and similar properties that link (de-)polymerisation to nucleotide hydrolysis.

In fact, the nucleotide-driven dynamics of these polymers make them immensely useful for the majority of living organisms since polymer growth and disassembly may be used by cells to generate force. Indeed, they can be regarded as one-dimensional motors, hence we termed them cytomotive. For further reading we suggest our recent review in Int Rev Cell Mol Biol (2011).

For our investigations into the bacterial cytoskeleton we employ a multiscale approach that involves X-ray crystallography for the visualisation of atoms in molecules, electron microscopy for imaging molecules in filaments and whole, frozen cells (electron cryotomography) and light microscopy for visualising the dynamics of cytomotive filaments and cells.

In addition to our work on cytomotive filaments, we are deciphering the mechanisms of eukaryotic cohesin in a collaboration with Kim Nasmyth in Oxford. We have also worked on bacterial dynamin, Lon protease, and a variety of cytoskeleton-related proteins. One of the most active areas at the moment are the ParMRC and TubZRC systems for bacterial plasmid segregation that have proved invaluable in deciphering some of the basic principles of cytomotive filaments because of their relative simplicity.

We very much enjoy working at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology and we would like to encourage you to read about this amazing place on our institute's websites.

Feel free to get in touch if you are interested in work opportunities here, we regularly have summer students stay for 3-6 months and PhD application deadlines are usually in December. Postdoc applications are welcome at any time.

Jan Löwe




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