Live to Divide Another Way

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Science  17 Feb 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6070, pp. 776
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6070.776-a

Bacterial cell division is classically thought of as symmetrical. Several species divide by polar budding, however, and mutations in the cell division machinery of Agrobacterium, Brucella, and Sinorhizobium trigger branching morphologies rather than filaments. Two recent papers explored this phenomenon. First, in the rod-shaped plant pathogen Agrobacterium tunefaciens, Brown et al. used time-lapse photography and observed that new daughter cells emerge strictly from the pole of the mother cell, growing by incorporation of newly synthesized cell wall. After division, there is only a small increase in mother cell length, which retains old cell wall material. Cell division in Mycobacterium was also shown to be asymmetrical, giving rise to slow-growing daughter cells that are less sensitive to an anti-tuberculosis drug than faster-growing but older mother cells (see Aldridge et al., Reports, Science, 6 January 2012). Asymmetric inheritance of cell material of different ages may give bacteria multiple adaptive options by generating a variety of phenotypes, some of which will be able to escape a shift in environmental conditions and live to divide another day.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 109, 1697 (2011).

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