Transmembrane proteins in the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria are almost exclusively β-barrels. They are inserted into the outer membrane by a conserved and essential protein complex called the BAM (for β-barrel assembly machinery). In this commentary, we summarize current research into the mechanism of this protein complex and how it relates to type V secretion. Type V secretion systems are autotransporters that all contain a β-barrel transmembrane domain inserted by BAM. In type Vc systems, this domain is a homotrimer. We argue that none of the current models are sufficient to explain BAM function particularly regarding type Vc secretion. We also find that current models based on the well-studied model system Escherichia coli mostly ignore the pronounced differences in BAM composition between different bacterial species. We propose a more holistic view on how all OMPs, including autotransporters, are incorporated into the lipid bilayer.
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