To navigate within the geomagnetic field, magnetotactic bacteria synthesize magnetosomes, which are unique organelles consisting of membrane-enveloped magnetite nanocrystals. In magnetotactic spirilla, magnetosomes become actively organized into chains by the filament-forming actin-like MamK and the adaptor protein MamJ, thereby assembling a magnetic dipole much like a compass needle. However, in Magnetospirillum gryphiswaldense, discontinuous chains are still formed in the absence of MamK. Moreover, these fragmented chains persist in a straight conformation indicating undiscovered structural determinants able to accommodate a bar magnet-like magnetoreceptor in a helical bacterium.
Here, we identify MamY, a membrane-bound protein that generates a sophisticated mechanical scaffold for magnetosomes. MamY localizes linearly along the positive inner cell curvature (the geodetic cell axis) likely by self-interaction and curvature sensing. In a mamY deletion mutant, magnetosome chains detach from the geodetic axis and fail to accommodate a straight conformation coinciding with reduced cellular magnetic orientation. Co-deletion of mamKY completely abolishes chain formation, whereas upon synthetic tethering of magnetosomes to MamY, the chain configuration is regained, emphasizing the structural properties of the protein. Our results suggest MamY as membrane-anchored mechanical scaffold essential to align the motility axis of magnetotactic spirilla with their magnetic moment vector and to perfectly reconcile magnetoreception with swimming direction.