An investigation of the genes that govern spore formation in the bacteria B. subtilis shows that chance plays a significant role in determining which of the microbes sacrifice themselves for the colony and which go on to form spores.
B. subtilis, a common soil bacteria, is a well-known survivor. When running short of food, it can alternatively band together in colonies or encase itself in a tough, protective spore to wait for better times. In fact, B. subtilis is so good at making spores that it's often used as a model organism by biologists who study bacterial spore formation.
"It's too early to say whether B. subtilis is truly altruistic," said co-author Oleg Igoshin, assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice University. "What is clear from this is that not all bacteria are going to look and act the same, and that's something that can be overlooked when people either study or attempt to control bacteria with population-wide approaches."
For example, Igoshin said doctors and food safety engineers might need to amend general approaches aimed at controlling bacteria with more targeted methods that also account for the uncharacteristic individual.
The new results appear in the April 15 issue of Molecular Systems Biology. The experimental work, which was done by Jan-Willem Veening, currently at Newcastle University, and by other members of Oscar Kuipers' research group at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, focused on the B. subtilis genes that regulate both spore formation and the production cycles of two proteins -- subtilisin and bacillopeptidase. These two proteins help break apart dead cells and convert them into food. They are produced and released into the surrounding environment by B. subtilis cells that are running low on food.
From previous studies, scientists know there is some overlap between genes that control the production of the two proteins and those that control spore formation.
"Only a portion of the bacteria in a colony will form spores and only portion of the bacteria produce subtilisin, and we were interested in probing the genetic basis for this," Igoshin said. "How is it decided which cells become spores and which don't?"
Igoshin, a computational biologist, used computer simulations to help decipher and interpret the team's experimental results. He said the team found that fewer than 30 percent of individuals in a colony produce large quantities of the food-converting proteins. Even though the proteins benefit all members of the colony and help some cells to become spores, the cells that produce the proteins in bulk do not form spores themselves.
"There's a feedback loop, so that cells that start producing the proteins early get a reinforced signal to keep making them," Igoshin said. "We found that it's probabilistic events -- chance, if you will -- that dictates who is early and who is late. The early ones start working for the benefit of everyone while the later ones save valuable resources to ensure successful completion of sporulation program. Many cells will end up committing to sporulation before they had a chance to contribute to protease production"
Igoshin said a key piece of evidence confirming modeling predictions came in experiments that tracked genetically identical sister cells, some of which became protein producers and some of which didn't.
Jade Boyd | EurekAlert!
Complementing conventional antibiotics
24.05.2018 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Building a brain, cell by cell: Researchers make a mini neuron network (of two)
23.05.2018 | Institute of Industrial Science, The University of Tokyo
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
24.05.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
24.05.2018 | Medical Engineering
24.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy