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  1. Computational models of cells cannot be considered complete unless they include the most fundamental process of life, the replication and inheritance of genetic material. By creating a computational framework to model systems of replicating bacterial chromosomes as polymers at 10 bp resolution with Brownian dynamics, we investigate changes in chromosome organization during replication and extend the applicability of an existing whole-cell model (WCM) for a genetically minimal bacterium, JCVI-syn3A, to the entire cell-cycle. To achieve cell-scale chromosome structures that are realistic, we model the chromosome as a self-avoiding homopolymer with bending and torsional stiffnesses that capture the essential mechanical properties of dsDNA in Syn3A. In addition, the conformations of the circular DNA must avoid overlapping with ribosomes identitied in cryo-electron tomograms. While Syn3A lacks the complex regulatory systems known to orchestrate chromosome segregation in other bacteria, its minimized genome retains essential loop-extruding structural maintenance of chromosomes (SMC) protein complexes (SMC-scpAB) and topoisomerases. Through implementing the effects of these proteins in our simulations of replicating chromosomes, we find that they alone are sufficient for simultaneous chromosome segregation across all generations within nested theta structures. This supports previous studies suggesting loop-extrusion serves as a near-universal mechanism for chromosome organization within bacterial and eukaryotic cells. Furthermore, we analyze ribosome diffusion under the influence of the chromosome and calculatein silicochromosome contact maps that capture inter-daughter interactions. Finally, we present a methodology to map the polymer model of the chromosome to a Martini coarse-grained representation to prepare molecular dynamics models of entire Syn3A cells, which serves as an ultimate means of validation for cell states predicted by the WCM.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 9, 2024
  2. The ultimate microscope, directed at a cell, would reveal the dynamics of all the cell’s components with atomic resolution. In contrast to their real-world counterparts, computational microscopes are currently on the brink of meeting this challenge. In this perspective, we show how an integrative approach can be employed to model an entire cell, the minimal cell, JCVI-syn3A, at full complexity. This step opens the way to interrogate the cell’s spatio-temporal evolution with molecular dynamics simulations, an approach that can be extended to other cell types in the near future. 
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  3. Abstract

    UvrD, a model for non-hexameric Superfamily 1 helicases, utilizes ATP hydrolysis to translocate stepwise along single-stranded DNA and unwind the duplex. Previous estimates of its step size have been indirect, and a consensus on its stepping mechanism is lacking. To dissect the mechanism underlying DNA unwinding, we use optical tweezers to measure directly the stepping behavior of UvrD as it processes a DNA hairpin and show that UvrD exhibits a variable step size averaging ~3 base pairs. Analyzing stepping kinetics across ATP reveals the type and number of catalytic events that occur with different step sizes. These single-molecule data reveal a mechanism in which UvrD moves one base pair at a time but sequesters the nascent single strands, releasing them non-uniformly after a variable number of catalytic cycles. Molecular dynamics simulations point to a structural basis for this behavior, identifying the protein-DNA interactions responsible for strand sequestration. Based on structural and sequence alignment data, we propose that this stepping mechanism may be conserved among other non-hexameric helicases.

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  4. null (Ed.)
    JCVI-syn3A is a genetically minimal bacterial cell, consisting of 493 genes and only a single 543 kbp circular chromosome. Syn3A’s genome and physical size are approximately one-tenth those of the model bacterial organism Escherichia coli ’s, and the corresponding reduction in complexity and scale provides a unique opportunity for whole-cell modeling. Previous work established genome-scale gene essentiality and proteomics data along with its essential metabolic network and a kinetic model of genetic information processing. In addition to that information, whole-cell, spatially-resolved kinetic models require cellular architecture, including spatial distributions of ribosomes and the circular chromosome’s configuration. We reconstruct cellular architectures of Syn3A cells at the single-cell level directly from cryo-electron tomograms, including the ribosome distributions. We present a method of generating self-avoiding circular chromosome configurations in a lattice model with a resolution of 11.8 bp per monomer on a 4 nm cubic lattice. Realizations of the chromosome configurations are constrained by the ribosomes and geometry reconstructed from the tomograms and include DNA loops suggested by experimental chromosome conformation capture (3C) maps. Using ensembles of simulated chromosome configurations we predict chromosome contact maps for Syn3A cells at resolutions of 250 bp and greater and compare them to the experimental maps. Additionally, the spatial distributions of ribosomes and the DNA-crowding resulting from the individual chromosome configurations can be used to identify macromolecular structures formed from ribosomes and DNA, such as polysomes and expressomes. 
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  5. Johnson, Michael David (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Analysis of the genes retained in the minimized Mycoplasma JCVI-Syn3A genome established that systems that repair or preempt metabolite damage are essential to life. Several genes known to have such functions were identified and experimentally validated, including 5-formyltetrahydrofolate cycloligase, coenzyme A (CoA) disulfide reductase, and certain hydrolases. Furthermore, we discovered that an enigmatic YqeK hydrolase domain fused to NadD has a novel proofreading function in NAD synthesis and could double as a MutT-like sanitizing enzyme for the nucleotide pool. Finally, we combined metabolomics and cheminformatics approaches to extend the core metabolic map of JCVI-Syn3A to include promiscuous enzymatic reactions and spontaneous side reactions. This extension revealed that several key metabolite damage control systems remain to be identified in JCVI-Syn3A, such as that for methylglyoxal. IMPORTANCE Metabolite damage and repair mechanisms are being increasingly recognized. We present here compelling genetic and biochemical evidence for the universal importance of these mechanisms by demonstrating that stripping a genome down to its barest essentials leaves metabolite damage control systems in place. Furthermore, our metabolomic and cheminformatic results point to the existence of a network of metabolite damage and damage control reactions that extends far beyond the corners of it that have been characterized so far. In sum, there can be little room left to doubt that metabolite damage and the systems that counter it are mainstream metabolic processes that cannot be separated from life itself. 
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