Converting into an archaebacterium with a hybrid heterochiral membrane

Antonella Caforio, Melvin F Siliakus, Marten Exterkate, Samta Jain, Varsha R Jumde, Ruben L H Andringa, Servé W M Kengen, Adriaan J Minnaard, Arnold J M Driessen, John van der Oost

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One of the main differences between bacteria and archaea concerns their membrane composition. Whereas bacterial membranes are made up of glycerol-3-phosphate ester lipids, archaeal membranes are composed of glycerol-1-phosphate ether lipids. Here, we report the construction of a stable hybrid heterochiral membrane through lipid engineering of the bacteriumEscherichia coliBy boosting isoprenoid biosynthesis and heterologous expression of archaeal ether lipid biosynthesis genes, we obtained a viableE. colistrain of which the membranes contain archaeal lipids with the expected stereochemistry. It has been found that the archaeal lipid biosynthesis enzymes are relatively promiscuous with respect to their glycerol phosphate backbone and thatE. colihas the unexpected potential to generate glycerol-1-phosphate. The unprecedented level of 20-30% archaeal lipids in a bacterial cell has allowed for analyzing the effect on the mixed-membrane cell's phenotype. Interestingly, growth rates are unchanged, whereas the robustness of cells with a hybrid heterochiral membrane appeared slightly increased. The implications of these findings for evolutionary scenarios are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberpnas.1721604115
Pages (from-to)3704-3709
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
Early online date27-Feb-2018
Publication statusPublished - 3-Apr-2018


  • lipid biosynthesis
  • ether lipids
  • hybrid membranes
  • bacteria
  • archaea

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