Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Genetically identical bacteria can behave in radically different ways

Uneven distribution of certain mechanisms during cell division creates diversity that can enhance a bacterial population's survival

Although a population of bacteria may be genetically identical, individual bacteria within that population can act in radically different ways.

As these bacterial cells divide, chemotaxis machinery (bright blue and red) localize in one daughter cell.

Credit: Samuel Miller lab/University of Washington

This phenomenon is crucial in the bacteria's struggle for survival. The more diversity a population of bacteria has, the more likely it will contain individuals able to take advantage of a new opportunity or overcome a new threat, including the threat posed by an antibiotic.

In a recent study, researchers at the University of Washington showed that when a bacterial cell divides into two daughter cells there can be an uneven distribution of cellular organelles. The resulting cells can behave differently from each other, depending on which parts they received in the split.

"This is another way that cells within a population can diversify. Here we've shown it in a bacterium, but it probably is true for all cells, including human cells," said Dr. Samuel Miller, UW professor of microbiology, genome sciences, and medicine and the paper's senior author.

Bridget Kulasekara, who obtained a Ph.D in the UW Molecular and Cellular Biology Program, was the paper's lead author. Other contributors included: Hemantha Kulasekara, Matthias Christen, and Cassie Kamischke, who work in Miller's lab, and Paul Wiggins, UW assistant professor of physics and bioengineering. The paper appears in the online journal eLife.

In an earlier paper, Miller and his colleagues showed that when bacteria divided, the concentration of an important regulatory molecule, called cyclic diguanosine monophosphate (c-di-GMP). was unevenly distributed between the two progeny. c-di-GMP is a second messenger molecule. That finding was published in the journal Science in 2010.

Second messenger molecules transmit signals from sensors or receptors on the cell's external membrane to targets within the cell, where they can rapidly alter a wide variety of cellular functions, such as metabolism and mobility.

The ability to respond to external stimuli quickly is important for the bacteria's survival. For instance, to stay alive, a bacterium must not hesitate to swim towards nutrients or away from toxins. This directional movement of microorganisms, spurred by the presence of a helpful or harmful substance, is known as chemotaxis.

"The effect of second messengers is almost immediate," said Miller. "They allow bacteria to change their behavior within seconds."

To detect the difference in c-di-GMP levels between cells, the researchers used a technique called Förster resonance energy transfer microscopy, or FRET microscopy. This allowed them to measure nanomolar changes of the concentration of c-di-GMP within individual bacteria as the changes happened second by second.

Different concentrations of c-di-GMP can have a profound influence on a cell's behavior. For example, in the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, cells with high levels of c-di-GMP tend to remain still, adhere to surfaces and form colonies. Those with low levels, on the other hand, tend to actively swim about by using a corkscrew-shaped propeller located at one end of the bacterium.

In the latest study, the Miller and his colleagues worked out the molecular mechanism behind the difference in c-di-GMP concentrations seen between daughter cells.

When Pseudomonas cells divide, they pinch in half to create two daughter cells. Although the cells are genetically identical, only one daughter cell can inherit the bacterium's single propeller. The other cell can synthesize its own propeller, but immediately after division the two cells are quite different.

What Miller and his coworkers report in the eLife paper is that the daughter cell that inherits the propeller also inherits an enzyme that is closely associated with the propeller that degrades c-di-GMP, as well as the organelle involved in directing movement toward or away from stimuli that activates this enzyme.

Together these two organelles work in concert to lower the concentration of c-di-GMP and control swimming.

"What we have shown is that the uneven inheritance of organelles is another way cells have to create diversity and increase the chances of the survival of its species," Miller said.

He added that his team's findings may help explain how bacteria resist antibiotic treatments by always having some cells in their populations be in a slow-growing, resting state. Since antibiotics target fast-growing cells, these resting cells are more likely to survive the treatment. The findings might also help explain how some bacteria are able to adhere to and colonize surfaces such as urinary catheters, intravenous lines and heart valves.

In ongoing research, Miller's team is trying to get a better understanding of the signals that can change second messenger concentrations very quickly and is screening compounds that could interfere with or alter those signals. Such compounds could be used to combat drug resistance, for instance, or inhibit a bacterium's ability to adhere to surfaces and form slime-like colonies, called biofilms, that are highly resistant to antibiotics.

The new paper, as well as the earlier study, which appeared in the journal Science in 2010, are both available free online.

Kulasekara et al. c-di-GMP heterogeneity is generated by the chemotaxis machinery to regulate flagellar motility. ELife. 2013;2:e01402. Chisten M et al. Asymmetrical Distribution of the Second Messenger c-di-GMP upon Bacterial Cell Division. Science. 2010; 328(5983):1295-1297 DOI: 10.1126/science.1188658

The research was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Grant number: 5U54AI057141-09) the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (Grant number 2007047910) and the National Institutes of Health (Grant number 1R21NS067579-0).

Leila Gray | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Don't Give the Slightest Chance to Toxic Elements in Medicinal Products
23.03.2018 | Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB)

nachricht North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>