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Scientists spy on the secret inner life of bacteria

New images uncover mysterious structures inside microbes, including mini towers, fishhooks, train tracks and horseshoes

2:00pm, June 22, 2017
vesicle in the bacterium Halothiobacillus neapolitanus

UNDER THE SKIN  Researchers have discovered mysterious structures, such as these bubblelike compartments called vesicles that sit between the cell membrane (cyan) and the cell wall (purple) of the bacterium Halothiobacillus neapolitanus (cryotomogram, top;  3-D reconstruction, bottom).

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On the surface, bacteria may appear bland. But there’s more going on inside than meets the eye, new research is revealing.

For many years, scientists thought that bacteria didn’t have internal structures and were basically “bags of enzymes,” says structural and cell biologist Martin Warren of the University of Kent in England.

Now, one group of researchers has described a rich collection of mysterious structures and compartments within bacteria. No one knows the function of the constructs, the researchers report online June 12 in the Journal of Bacteriology, but they must be important for bacteria to spend so much energy building them.

A different team of scientists presents the first atomic-scale look at a complete bacterial microcompartment in

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