Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

How quickly can a bacterium grow?

28.08.2013
Physicist finds that E. coli replicate close to thermodynamic limits of efficiency

All living things must obey the laws of physics — including the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the universe's disorder, or entropy, can only grow. Highly ordered cells and organisms appear to contradict this principle, but they actually do conform because they generate heat that increases the universe's overall entropy.

Still, questions remain: What is the theoretical threshold for how much heat a living cell must generate to fulfill its thermodynamic constraints? And how closely do cells approach that limit?

In a recent paper in the Journal of Chemical Physics, MIT physicist Jeremy England mathematically modeled the replication of E. coli bacteria and found that the process is nearly as efficient as possible: E. coli produce at most only about six times more heat than they need to meet the constraints of the second law of thermodynamics.

"Given what the bacterium is made of, and given how rapidly it grows, what would be the minimum amount of heat that it would have to exhaust into its surroundings? When you compare that with the amount of heat it's actually exhausting, they're roughly on the same scale," says England, an assistant professor of physics. "It's relatively close to the maximum efficiency."

England's approach to modeling biological systems involves statistical mechanics, which calculates the probabilities of different arrangements of atoms or molecules. He focused on the biological process of cell division, through which one cell becomes two. During the 20-minute replication process, a bacterium consumes a great deal of food, rearranges many of its molecules — including DNA and proteins — and then splits into two cells.

To calculate the minimum amount of heat a bacterium needs to generate during this process, England decided to investigate the thermodynamics of the reverse process — that is, two cells becoming one. This is so unlikely that it will probably never happen. However, the likelihood of it happening can be estimated by aggregating the probabilities of reversing all of the smaller reactions that take place during replication.

One of the common reactions that occur during replication is formation of new peptide bonds, which form the backbone of proteins. Spontaneously reversing that type of reaction would take about 600 years, England says. The number of peptide bonds in a typical bacterium is about 1.6 billion, and the heat wattage needed to break all of those bonds is about 100 billion natural units.

"I would have to wait a really long time to see all of those bonds fall apart," England says.

By estimating the waiting time needed to observe a spontaneous reversal of replication, England calculated that the minimum amount of heat a bacterium needs to generate as it divides is a little more than one-sixth of the amount an E. coli cell actually produces during replication.

The finding suggests that bacteria could grow dramatically faster than they do now and still obey the second law of thermodynamics. England says that because cell replication is just one of the many tasks E. coli need to perform, it's unlikely they would evolve to their most efficient possible growth rate. However, for synthetic biology applications, it may be useful to create bacteria that can divide faster, which this paper shows is theoretically possible.

The paper may also offer some evidence for why DNA, and not RNA, evolved as the main form of genetic material, England says: DNA is more durable and doesn't spontaneously break its bonds as readily as RNA does. This means that RNA may have an advantage over DNA because it can grow faster and use up available resources. This supports a previously suggested hypothesis that RNA may have evolved first, before life arose on Earth, and DNA showed up later on.

"I think it's a helpful way of trying to get a little bit more of a handle on the different kinds of selection forces that may have been acting on [early] nucleic acids," England says.

He is now using the same theoretical approach to model how self-replicating cells evolve by working out new ways of adapting to environmental fluctuations.

Written by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office

Andrew Carleen | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth
09.12.2016 | Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

nachricht Plant-based substance boosts eyelash growth
09.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Polymerforschung IAP

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Electron highway inside crystal

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.

Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth

09.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Scientists produce a new roadmap for guiding development & conservation in the Amazon

09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Satellites, airport visibility readings shed light on troops' exposure to air pollution

09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>