Planctomycetes are a phylum of aquatic bacteria and are found in samples of brackish, and marine and freshwater. They reproduce by budding. In structure, the organisms of this group are ovoid and have a holdfast, at the tip of a thin cylindrical extension from the cell body called the stalk, at the nonreproductive end that helps them to attach to each other during budding.
For a long time bacteria belonging to this group were considered to lack peptidoglycan, (also called murein) in their cell walls, which is an important heteropolymer present in most bacterial cell walls that serves as a protective component. It was thought that instead their walls were made up of glycoprotein which is rich in glutamate. Recently, however, representatives of all three clades within the Planctomycetes were found to possess peptidoglycan-containing cell walls.
Planctomycetes have a distinctive morphology with the appearance of membrane-bound internal compartments, often referred to as the paryphoplasm (ribosome-free space), pirellulosome (ribosome-containing space) and nucleoid (condensed nucleic acid region, in these species surrounded by a double membrane). Until the discovery of the Poribacteria, planctomycetes were the only bacteria known with these apparent internal compartments. Three-dimensional electron tomography reconstruction of a representative species, Gemmata obscuriglobus, has yielded varying interpretations of this observation. One 2013 study found the appearance of internal compartments to be due to a densely invaginated but continuous single membrane, concluding that only the two compartments typical of Gram-negative bacteria - the cytoplasm and periplasm - are present. However, the excess membrane triples the surface area of the cell relative to its volume, which may be related to Gemmata'ssterol biosynthesis abilities. A 2014 study using similar methods reported confirmation of the earlier enclosed compartment hypothesis.
It has recently been shown that Gemmata obscuriglobus is able to take in large molecules via a process which in some ways resembles endocytosis, the process used by eukaryotic cells to engulf external items.
Although the Planctomycetes are renowned for their unusual cellular characteristics, their distinctness from all other bacteria is additionally supported by the shared presence of two conserved signature indels (CSIs). These CSIs demarcate the group from neighboring phyla within the PVC group. An additional CSI has been found that is shared by all Planctomycetes species, with the exception of Kuenenia stuttgartiensis, which is in line with the observation that K. stuttgartiensis forms a deep branch within the phylum.
A conserved signature indel has also been found to be shared by the entire PVC group, including Planctomycetes. Planctomycetes also harbours an important conserved signature protein that has been characterized to play an important housekeeping function that is exclusive to members belonging to the PVC clade.
The life cycle of many planctomycetes involves alternation between sessile cells and flagellated swarmer cells. The sessile cells bud to form the flagellated swarmer cells which swim for a while before settling down to attach and begin reproduction.
^Lindsay, M. R.; Webb, R. I.; Strous, M; Jetten, M. S.; Butler, M. K.; Forde, R. J.; Fuerst, J. A. (2001). "Cell compartmentalisation in planctomycetes: Novel types of structural organisation for the bacterial cell". Archives of Microbiology. 175 (6): 413–29. doi:10.1007/s002030100280. PMID11491082.