A better understanding of how bacteria reproduce

about the episode

Bacteria reproduce through growth and cell division. During each round of growth and division, the so-called cell cycle, the cell must copy all the components of the cell exactly at once. How the cell managed to do this without errors is a question that has occupied the scientific field for a long time.

Researchers at AMOLF have now developed a mathematical model that provides an explanation for this. Because how do bacteria “know” when to copy their DNA? What about the different growth rates? Recent advances in single-cell microscopy allow researchers to look at and observe individual cells as they grow and divide.

This provides new information. First, bacteria grow by constantly increasing their size. When the bacteria reach a certain size, a new round of DNA replication begins. To activate this, the activating protein must bind to the starting point of the chromosome – with the DNA on it – and then unlock it. Replication can then begin.

This activated protein just goes through several more processes before it makes this stub. What the experiments have now shown is that this activated protein can switch between the active form and the inactive form during those steps. This keeps the cell cycle stable at different growth rates and eventually reaches the starting point in time.

Why would they want to know this in great detail? Because all of this is important information when developing better antibiotics – you want to prevent those bacteria from multiplying – and because there is a lot of work that is being done on making a functional artificial cell. Because if we could do that — make one that could replicate itself — we could do a lot of important research with it.

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Read more: A new model for the reproduction of Escherichia coli bacteria.

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