Most organisms are able to synthesize ATP by OXPHOS (oxidative phosphorylation). Mitochondria in eukaryotes perform OXPHOS in the inner mitochondrial membrane, whereas the plasma membrane is used by prokaryotes. However, whereas OXPHOS is a well-understood process at the biochemical level, relatively little is known about its operation at the level of the whole-organelle/cell. We observed that a fluorescently labelled terminal oxidase, the cytochrome bd complex, is heterogeneously distributed in the Escherichia coli plasma membrane. This observation forms the basis of a working hypothesis that patches of the E. coli plasma membrane (‘respirazones’) are dedicated to respiratory function by the high concentration of OXPHOS components in these zones relative to the adjacent membrane. The formulation and physiological significance of this hypothesis are discussed in this paper.

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