Smc–ScpAB forms elongated, annular structures that promote chromosome segregation, presumably by compacting and resolving sister DNA molecules. The mechanistic basis for its action, however, is only poorly understood. Here, we have established a physical assay to determine whether the binding of condensin to native chromosomes in Bacillus subtilis involves entrapment of DNA by the Smc–ScpAB ring. To do so, we have chemically cross-linked the three ring interfaces in Smc–ScpAB and thereafter isolated intact chromosomes under protein denaturing conditions. Exclusively species of Smc–ScpA, which were previously cross-linked into covalent rings, remained associated with chromosomal DNA. DNA entrapment is abolished by mutations that interfere with the Smc ATPase cycle and strongly reduced when the recruitment factor ParB is deleted, implying that most Smc–ScpAB is loaded onto the chromosome at parS sites near the replication origin. We furthermore report a physical interaction between native Smc–ScpAB and chromosomal DNA fragments.
The genome of any living organism holds all the genetic information that the organism needs to live and grow. This information is written in the sequence of the organism's DNA, and is often divided into sub-structures called chromosomes. Different species have different sized genomes, but even bacteria with some of the smallest genomes still contain DNA molecules that are thousand times longer than the length of their cells. DNA molecules must thus be highly compacted in order to fit inside the cells. DNA compaction is particularly important during cell division, when the DNA is being equally distributed to the newly formed cells.
In plants, animals and all other eukaryotes, large protein complexes known as condensin and cohesin play a major role in compacting, and then separating, the cell's chromosomes. Many bacteria also have condensin-like complexes. At the core of all these complexes are pairs of so-called SMC proteins. However, it is not clear how these SMC proteins direct chromosomes to become highly compacted when cells are dividing.
Wilhelm et al. have now developed two new approaches to investigate how SMC proteins associate with bacterial DNA. These approaches were then used to study how SMC proteins coordinate the compaction of chromosomes in a bacterium called Bacillus subtilis. The experiments revealed that SMC proteins are in direct physical contact with the bacterial chromosome, and that bacterial DNA fibers are physically captured within a ring structure formed by the SMC proteins.
Wilhelm et al. suggest that these new findings, and recent technological advances, have now set the stage for future studies to gain mechanistic insight into these protein complexes that organize and segregate chromosomes.