Co-ordinate synthesis and protein localization in a bacterial organelle by the action of a penicillin-binding-protein



Organelles with specialized form and function occur in diverse bacteria. Within the Alphaproteobacteria, several species extrude thin cellular appendages known as stalks, which function in nutrient uptake, buoyancy and reproduction. Consistent with their specialization, stalks maintain a unique molecular composition compared with the cell body, but how this is achieved remains to be fully elucidated. Here we dissect the mechanism of localization of StpX, a stalk-specific protein in Caulobacter crescentus. Using a forward genetics approach, we identify a penicillin-binding-protein, PbpC, which is required for the localization of StpX in the stalk. We show that PbpC acts at the stalked cell pole to anchor StpX to rigid components of the outer membrane of the elongating stalk, concurrent with stalk synthesis. Stalk-localized StpX in turn functions in cellular responses to copper and zinc, suggesting that the stalk may contribute to metal homeostasis in Caulobacter. Together, these results identify a novel role for a penicillin-binding-protein in compartmentalizing a bacterial organelle it itself helps create, raising the possibility that cell wall-synthetic enzymes may broadly serve not only to synthesize the diverse shapes of bacteria, but also to functionalize them at the molecular level.