A Tale of Two Bacterial Strains

It was the hottest of times, it was the coldest of times, and it was billions of years before the French revolution when one bacterial strain became two and possibly a few more.1p630 One of these strains would thrive in what we now know to be the Arctic Cold.1p627 Another would survive in the vents of a volcano.1p627 Not so coincidentally, both strains depend on vital functions of hexokinase.1p627 Normally hexokinase would become denatured while exposed to hot, molten rock.1p627

How does the volcano strain survive? The answer lies in significantly more R group interactions of amino acids found in holding its tertiary structure together.1p630 These noncovalent interactions play their role of stability via hydrogen bonding, ionic bonding and van der Waals forces.1p614 The extra support keeps hexokinase’s globular protein alpha-helix and beta-pleated sheets from unfolding.1p609

Although perhaps not nearly complex as R group interactions, the bacterial strains would require another variation: maintaining membrane fluidity.1p582 The two bacterial strain’s membrane lipids differ in their ratios of saturated and unsatured fats.1p582 While North Pole bacteria require a greater percentage of unsaturated fat double-bond “kinks” for their membranes to stay fluid, the membranes of bacteria in a firy environment are usually made up of a higher percentage of saturated fats.1p582

What does this information mean for humankind? The mystery of the beginning of life may partially lie in how both bacterial strains developed. Animals and plants both contain hexokinase, which plays roles in glycolysis and possibly sugar signal transduction pathways.1p726 & 2 Additionally all cells contain membrane lipids.1p557 Thus, the more we learn about these bacteria, the more we may learn about ourselves and our own humble origins.


1. Denniston, KJ, Topping, JJ, Caret, RL. General, Organic, and Biochemistry, 5th ed. New York: McGraw Hill; 2007.

2. Sheen, J, Jang, J. The role of hexokinase in plant sugar signal transduction and growth and development. Plant Molec Biol. 2000;44:451–461. Available at: http://genetics.mgh.harvard.edu/sheenweb/reprints/sugarPMB00.pdf. Accessed on November 5, 2008.

Published by David Despain, MS, CFS

David is a science and health writer living on Long Island, New York. He's written for a variety of publications including Scientific American, Outside Online, the American Society for Nutrition's (ASN) Nutrition Notes Daily, and Institute of Food Technologists' (IFT) Food Technology magazine and Live! blog. He's also covered new findings reported at scientific meetings including Experimental Biology, AAAS, AOCS, CASW, Sigma Xi, IFT, and others on his personal blog "Evolving Health." David is also an active member of organizations including the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Society for Nutrition, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the National Audubon Society. David has a master's degree in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, and a bachelor's degree in English from University of Illinois at Springfield. He also earned his Certified Food Scientist credential from the Institute of Food Technologists.

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