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Bacteria delay survival decisions

Common soil bacterium <em>Bacillus subtilis</em> forms a spore when food runs short

Bacillus subtilis is a common soil bacterium that forms a spore when food runs short. New research by scientists at Rice University and the University of Houston has found that B. subtilis begins preparing for survival in hard times, even as it delays the ultimate decision of whether to form a spore. Researchers used fluorescent labels to measure the production of spore-forming genes. This image shows a heterogeneous population of starving bacterial cells that includes both non-sporulating cells (dark blue) and cells that have begun spore-formation by dividing asymmetrically into large (yellow) and small (pink).

Although B. subtilis is harmless to humans, there are some dangerous bacteria like anthrax that also form spores. Scientists are anxious to better understand the process, both to protect public health and to explore the evolution of complex genetic processes.

This research was supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation: Project Title: Systems Analysis of the Sporulation Initiation Network in the Bacterium Bacillus subtilis (MCB-0920463).

To learn more, see the Rice University news story Deciphering bacterial doomsday decisions--Rice University-led study finds bacteria delay survival decisions. (Date of Image: July 2012)

Credit: Masaya Fujita, University of Houston
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