Amino acid, extremolyte, osmolyte ... There are many wise words in the literature to describe what ectoine really is. We are in a hurry with the answer! Ectoine (ectoine) is a cyclic amino acid of low molecular weight, produced by some extremophiles (microorganisms that live in extreme environmental conditions). In the course of evolution, bacteria have developed a number of unusual protective and adaptive mechanisms that allow them to survive and function in extreme biotopes. One of them is the production and accumulation of substances with an osmoprotective effect - low-molecular organic compounds whose role is to equalize the extracellular osmotic pressure and affect the turgor (firmness state) of cells.
Ectoine belongs to compatible substances (compatible solutes). They strongly bind water molecules. It's so-called osmoprotectant, which can accumulate in cells in high concentrations, without interfering with the reactions that occur in them. Ectoine protects the cell against the harmful effects of environmental factors, such as radiation and osmotic stress.
Ektoine belongs to extremolytes - compounds synthesized (produced) by extremophilic microorganisms, e.g. halophilic bacteria, which develop in conditions of high salinity (in salt deserts), with low humidity and extreme exposure to UV radiation. They inhabit environments in which the temperature during the day may exceed 60 degrees Celsius, and at night fall below 0 degrees C. The synthesis of ectoine belongs to mechanisms that protect halophiles against the harmful effects of external conditions. Ectoine, by binding water, creates a protective water jacket around the most important bacterial cell structures. In an analogous way, ectoine can protect the cells of the human body.
Thus, ectoine synthesis (production) is initiated by extreme environmental conditions. When the stress factor ceases, its synthesis is inhibited. (Stress factors include very high or low temperatures, high salinity, the presence of substances that are not conducive to the growth of microorganisms).
Ectoine is osmolyte - a molecule that supports osmoregulation, i.e. maintaining the water-electrolyte balance of cells. The stable water and electrolyte economy regulated in the osmosis process depends, among others correct bacterial cell structure and metabolism.
Cells, under the influence of osmotic stress (e.g. increase in osmotic pressure), initiate mechanisms by which they can cope with the harmful effects of this condition. Osmoregulation processes strive to ensure cell turgor (the proper state of cell wall tension), i.e. to maintain conditions favorable for the proper development of bacteria. Osmoregulation (aimed at maintaining the water-electrolyte balance of the cell) includes, among others accumulation of osmoregulatory compounds - osmolytes (as a result of synthesis). Osmolytes are small organic molecules that affect the stabilization of cell membranes and proteins without interfering with the central metabolism of the cell.
Ectoine is a polar compound, well soluble and electrically neutral; produced when the osmotic pressure inside the cell is too high (ectoine prevents the cell from excessive water loss). Under hyperosmotic conditions, there is dehydration of the cytoplasm and the associated decrease in turgidity in the cells. The protection against these factors is the synthesis and accumulation of osmoprotective substances (like ectoine), thanks to which the hydration (hydration) of the cytoplasm is improved.
Ectoine, as a protective molecule, has a beneficial effect on the volume and turgor of cells (depending on the degree of hydration) and the ability of cells to function in extreme conditions.