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Phylum Verrucomicrobia representatives share a compartmentalized cell plan with members of bacterial phylum Planctomycetes

Kuo-Chang Lee1, Richard I Webb2, Peter H Janssen3, Parveen Sangwan4, Tony Romeo5, James T Staley6 and John A Fuerst1*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia

2 Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia

3 AgResearch Limited, Grasslands Research Centre, Tennent Drive, Private Bag 11008, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand

4 CSIRO Manufacturing and Materials Technology, Private Bag 33, Clayton South Victoria 3169, Australia

5 University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

6 Department of Microbiology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2009, 9:5  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-9-5

Published: 8 January 2009



The phylum Verrucomicrobia is a divergent phylum within domain Bacteria including members of the microbial communities of soil and fresh and marine waters; recently extremely acidophilic members from hot springs have been found to oxidize methane. At least one genus, Prosthecobacter, includes species with genes homologous to those encoding eukaryotic tubulins. A significant superphylum relationship of Verrucomicrobia with members of phylum Planctomycetes possessing a unique compartmentalized cell plan, and members of the phylum Chlamydiae including human pathogens with a complex intracellular life cycle, has been proposed. Based on the postulated superphylum relationship, we hypothesized that members of the two separate phyla Planctomycetes and Verrucomicrobia might share a similar ultrastructure plan differing from classical prokaryote organization.


The ultrastructure of cells of four members of phylum Verrucomicrobia Verrucomicrobium spinosum, Prosthecobacter dejongeii, Chthoniobacter flavus, and strain Ellin514 – was examined using electron microscopy incorporating high-pressure freezing and cryosubstitution. These four members of phylum Verrucomicrobia, representing 3 class-level subdivisions within the phylum, were found to possess a compartmentalized cell plan analogous to that found in phylum Planctomycetes. Like all planctomycetes investigated, they possess a major pirellulosome compartment containing a condensed nucleoid and ribosomes surrounded by an intracytoplasmic membrane (ICM), as well as a ribosome-free paryphoplasm compartment between the ICM and cytoplasmic membrane.


A unique compartmentalized cell plan so far found among Domain Bacteria only within phylum Planctomycetes, and challenging our concept of prokaryote cell plans, has now been found in a second phylum of the Domain Bacteria, in members of phylum Verrucomicrobia. The planctomycete cell plan thus occurs in at least two distinct phyla of the Bacteria, phyla which have been suggested from other evidence to be related phylogenetically in the proposed PVC (Planctomycetes-Verrucomicrobia-Chlamydiae) superphylum. This planctomycete cell plan is present in at least 3 of 6 subdivisions of Verrucomicrobia, suggesting that the common ancestor of the verrucomicrobial phylum was also compartmentalized and possessed such a plan. The presence of this compartmentalized cell plan in both phylum Planctomycetes and phylum Verrucomicrobia suggest that the last common ancestor of these phyla was also compartmentalized.