The bacterial flagellar type III secretion system (fT3SS) is a suite of membrane-embedded and cytoplasmic proteins responsible for building the flagellar motility machinery. Homologous nonflagellar (NF-T3SS) proteins form the injectisome machinery that bacteria use to deliver effector proteins into eukaryotic cells, and other family members were recently reported to be involved in the formation of membrane nanotubes. Here, we describe a novel, evolutionarily widespread, hat-shaped structure embedded in the inner membranes of bacteria, of yet-unidentified function, that is present in species containing fT3SS. Mutant analysis suggests a relationship between this novel structure and the fT3SS, but not the NF-T3SS. While the function of this novel structure remains unknown, we hypothesize that either some of the fT3SS proteins assemble within the hat-like structure, perhaps including the fT3SS core complex, or that fT3SS components regulate other proteins that form part of this novel structure. IMPORTANCE The type III secretion system (T3SS) is a fascinating suite of proteins involved in building diverse macromolecular systems, including the bacterial flagellar motility machine, the injectisome machinery that bacteria use to inject effector proteins into host cells, and probably membrane nanotubes which connect bacterial cells. Here, we accidentally discovered a novel inner membrane-associated complex related to the flagellar T3SS. Examining our lab database, which is comprised of more than 40,000 cryo-tomograms of dozens of species, we discovered that this novel structure is both ubiquitous and ancient, being present in highly divergent classes of bacteria. Discovering a novel, widespread structure related to what are among the best-studied molecular machines in bacteria will open new venues for research aiming at understanding the function and evolution of T3SS proteins.
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- secretion systems