Functional advantages conferred by extracellular prokaryotic membrane vesicles.
The absence of subcellular organelles is a characteristic typically used to distinguish prokaryotic from eukaryotic cells. But recent discoveries do not support this dogma. Over the past 50 years, researchers have begun to appreciate and characterize Gram-negative bacterial outer membrane-derived vesicles and Gram-positive and archaeal membrane vesicles. These extracellular, membrane-bound organelles can perform a variety of functions, including binding and delivery of DNA, transport of virulence factors, protection of the cell from outer membrane targeting antimicrobials and ridding the cell of toxic envelope proteins. Here, we review the contributions of these extracellular organelles to prokaryotic physiology and compare these with the contributions of the bacterial interior membrane-bound organelles responsible for harvesting light energy and for generating magnetic crystals of heavy metals. Understanding the roles of these multifunctional extracellular vesicle organelles as microbial tools will help us to better realize the diverse interactions that occur in our polymicrobial world.
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