Helical insertion of peptidoglycan produces chiral ordering of the bacterial cell wall

Siyuan Wang, Leon Furchtgott, Kerwyn Casey Huang, Joshua W. Shaevitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


The regulation of cell shape is a common challenge faced by organisms across all biological kingdoms. In nearly all bacteria, cell shape is determined by the architecture of the peptidoglycan cell wall, a macromolecule consisting of glycan strands crosslinked by peptides. In addition to shape, cell growth must also maintain the wall structural integrity to prevent lysis due to large turgor pressures. Robustness can be accomplished by establishing a globally ordered cell-wall network, although how a bacterium generates and maintains peptidoglycan order on the micron scale using nanometer-sized proteins remains a mystery. Here, we demonstrate that left-handed chirality of the MreB cytoskeleton in the rod-shaped bacterium Escherichia coli gives rise to a global, right-handed chiral ordering of the cell wall. Local, MreB-guided insertion of material into the peptidoglycan network naturally orders the glycan strands and causes cells to twist left-handedly during elongational growth. Through comparison with the right-handed twisting of Bacillus subtilis cells, our work supports a common mechanism linking helical insertion and chiral cell-wall ordering in rod-shaped bacteria. These physical principles of cell growth link the molecular structure of the bacterial cytoskeleton, mechanisms of wall synthesis, and the coordination of cell-wall architecture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E595-E604
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number10
StatePublished - Mar 6 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Biophysical modeling
  • Growth dynamics


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