Secretion and fusion of biogeochemically active archaeal membrane vesicles

Tyler B. Johnson, Collin Mach, Ryan Grove, Robert Kelly, Kevin Van Cott, Paul Blum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Microbes belonging to the genus Metallosphaera oxidize sulfidic minerals. These organisms thrive at temperature extremes and are members of the archaeal phylum Crenarchaeota. Because they can employ a lithoautotrophic metabolism, energy availability likely limits their activity raising questions about how they conduct biogeochemical activity. Vesicles are membrane encapsulated structures produced by all biological lineages but using very different mechanisms. Across the Crenarchaeota, it has been proposed that a eukaryotic-like Endosomal Sorting Complex Required for Transport system promotes formation of these structures but in response to unknown signals and for undefined purposes. To address such questions, Metallosphaera sedula vesicle formation and function were studied under lithoautotrophic conditions. Energy deprivation was evaluated and found to stimulate vesicle synthesis while energy excess repressed vesicle formation. Purified vesicles adhered rapidly to the primary copper ore, chalcopyrite, and formed compact monolayers. These vesicle monolayers catalyzed iron oxidation and solubilization of mineralized copper in a time-dependent process. As these activities were membrane associated, their potential transfer by vesicle fusion to M. sedula cells was examined. Fluorophore-loaded vesicles rapidly transferred fluorescence under environmentally relevant conditions. Vesicles from a related archaeal species were also capable of fusion; however, this process was species-specific as vesicles from different species were incapable of fusion. In addition, vesicles produced by a copper-resistant M. sedula cell line transferred copper extrusion capacity along with improved viability over mutant M. sedula cells lacking copper transport proteins. Membrane vesicles may therefore play a role in modulating energy-related traits in geochemical environments by fusion-mediated protein delivery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)659-673
Number of pages15
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2018


  • archaea
  • membrane fusion
  • regulated secretion
  • thermoacidophiles
  • vesicles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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