Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Waves make bug break point


Formation of the Z ring as an E. coli cell divides.
© Qin Sun/University of Texas

Sloshing proteins help bacteria find their waists.

Chemical waves may help a bacterium to divide by pinpointing its middle, according to a new model of protein interactions1.

Bacteria such as Escherichia coli multiply by dividing. Bacterial division (called binary fission) is simpler than human cell division (mitosis). Human cells erect scaffolding to transport components to the two nascent daughter cells at either end; bacteria just pinch in two.

Within this simplicity lies a puzzle. Without sophisticated molecular machinery, how do bacteria organize themselves so that their daughter cells are of roughly equal size?

Martin Howard of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, and colleagues think that the key is in the sloshing of three proteins, MinC, MinD and MinE, from end to end of the bacteria. This Min family initiates the formation of a protein drawstring, the Z ring, that runs around the cell’s midpoint and contracts to form a narrow waist.

In an E. coli cell, the Min proteins interact, setting up waves that sweep from end to end with a period of about 1-2 minutes. MinC and MinD gather at the cell’s ends, MinE gathers in the middle. MinC disrupts Z-ring formation, so the ring appears only at the midpoint, where the MinC concentration is low.

Howard’s team has devised a mathematical model of the Min family’s interactions. The model shows that the proteins’ oscillations can produce standing waves, like the air waves in an organ pipe, with MinE concentrated in the cell’s middle and MinC and D at the ends.

A similar interplay between reacting and diffusing proteins during development is thought to be responsible for some animals’ stripes. If Min proteins were coloured, a dividing bacterium would be dark at each end with a light band in the middle.

The researchers say that reasonable assumptions about the rates of protein reactions and diffusion give the right single-band form - two bands of MinE, for example, would result in a cell being pinched into three daughter cells. But they acknowledge that these rates have not yet been measured accurately enough to test the model stringently.


  1. Howard, M., Rutenberg, A. D. & de Vet, S. Dynamic compartmentalization of bacteria: accurate division in E. coli. Physical Review Letters, 87, 278102, (2001).

    PHILIP BALL | © Nature News Service
    Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | 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: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

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

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>