Biosynthesis of membrane lipids

John E Cronan, Charles O. Rock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The pathways in Escherichia coli and (largely by analogy) S. enterica remain the paradigm of bacterial lipid synthetic pathways, although recently considerable diversity among bacteria in the specific areas of lipid synthesis has been demonstrated. The structural biology of the fatty acid synthetic proteins is essentially complete. However, the membrane-bound enzymes of phospholipid synthesis remain recalcitrant to structural analyses. Recent advances in genetic technology have allowed the essentialgenes of lipid synthesis to be tested with rigor, and as expected most genes are essential under standard growth conditions. Conditionally lethal mutants are available in numerous genes, which facilitates physiological analyses. The array of genetic constructs facilitates analysis of the functions of genes from other organisms. Advances in mass spectroscopy have allowed very accurate and detailed analyses of lipid compositions as well as detection of the interactions of lipid biosynthetic proteins with one another and with proteins outside the lipid pathway. The combination of these advances has resulted in use of E. coli and S. enterica for discovery of new antimicrobials targeted to lipid synthesis and in deciphering the molecular actions of known antimicrobials. Finally, roles for bacterial fatty acids other than as membrane lipid structural components have been uncovered. For example, fatty acid synthesis plays major roles in the synthesis of the essential enzyme cofactors, biotin and lipoic acid. Although other roles for bacterial fatty acids, such as synthesis of acylhomoserine quorum-sensing molecules, are not native to E. coli introduction of the relevant gene(s) synthesis of these foreign molecules readily proceeds and the sophisticated tools available can used to decipher the mechanisms of synthesis of these molecules.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEcoSal Plus
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology


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