Comparative Study of the Structure of Gas Vacuoles


The fine structure of gas vacuoles was examined in two blue-green algae, two green bacteria, three purple sulfur bacteria, and two halobacteria. The gas vacuole is a compound organelle, composed of a variable number of gas vesicles. These are closed, cylindrical, gas-containing structures with conical ends, about 80 to 100 nm in width and of variable length, ranging from 0.2 to over 1.0 μm. The wall of the gas vesicle is a non-unit membrane 2 to 3 nm in thickness, bearing very regular striations with a periodicity of 4 nm, oriented more or less at right angles to the long axis of the cylinder. This fine structure could be clearly resolved in isolated gas vesicles prepared from a blue-green alga and from Halobacterium halobium, and its presence in the gas vesicles of the green bacterium Pelodictyon clathratiforme was inferred from thin sections. The gas vacuole thus appears to be a homologous organelle in all of these procaryotic groups. Minor differences with respect to the length and arrangement of the gas vesicles were observed. In blue-green algae and green bacteria, the vesicles are relatively long and tend to be arrayed in parallel bundles; in purple sulfur bacteria and Halobacterium, they are shorter and more irregularly distributed in the cell.

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