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Keywords:

  • magnetosome;
  • biomineralization;
  • synthetic biology;
  • bioprocess;
  • calculations;
  • biosynthesis

Abstract

Elucidation of the chemical logic of life is one of the grand challenges in biology, and essential to the progress of the upcoming field of synthetic biology. Treatment of microbial cells explicitly as a “chemical” species in controlled reaction (growth) environments has allowed fascinating discoveries of elemental formulae of a few species that have guided the modern views on compositions of a living cell. Application of mass and energy balances on living cells has proved to be useful in modeling of bioengineering systems, particularly in deriving optimized media compositions for growing microorganisms to maximize yields of desired bio-derived products by regulating intra-cellular metabolic networks. In this work, application of elemental mass balance during growth of Magnetospirillum gryphiswaldense in bioreactors has resulted in the discovery of the chemical formula of the magnetotactic bacterium. By developing a stoichiometric equation characterizing the formation of a magnetotactic bacterial cell, coupled with rigorous experimental measurements and robust calculations, we report the elemental formula of M. gryphiswaldense cell as equation image. Remarkably, we find that iron metabolism during growth of this magnetotactic bacterium is much more correlated individually with carbon and nitrogen, compared to carbon and nitrogen with each other, indicating that iron serves more as a nutrient during bacterial growth rather than just a mineral. Magnetotactic bacteria have not only invoked some interest in the field of astrobiology for the last two decades, but are also prokaryotes having the unique ability of synthesizing membrane bound intracellular organelles. Our findings on these unique prokaryotes are a strong addition to the limited repertoire, of elemental compositions of living cells, aimed at exploring the chemical logic of life. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2012; 109:1205–1216. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.