Nature Reviews Microbiology 10, 705-715 (October 2012) | doi:10.1038/nrmicro2834

Distribution, formation and regulation of gas vesicles

Felicitas Pfeifer1  About the author


A range of bacteria and archaea produce intracellular gas-filled proteinaceous structures that function as flotation devices in order to maintain a suitable depth in the aqueous environment. The wall of these gas vesicles is freely permeable to gas molecules and is composed of a small hydrophobic protein, GvpA, which forms a single-layer wall. In addition, several minor structural, accessory or regulatory proteins are required for gas vesicle formation. In different organisms, 8–14 genes encoding gas vesicle proteins have been identified, and their expression has been shown to be regulated by environmental factors. In this Review, I describe the basic properties of gas vesicles, the genes that encode them and how their production is regulated. I also discuss the function of these vesicles and the initial attempts to exploit them for biotechnological purposes.

Author affiliations

  1. Technische Universität Darmstadt, Fachbereich Biologie, Schnittspahnstrasse 10, D-64287 Darmstadt, Germany.

Published online 3 September 2012