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Deaths in the family cause bacteria to flee
Date:6/29/2010

This release is available in French.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The deaths of nearby relatives has a curious effect on the bacterium Caulobacter crescentus -- surviving cells lose their stickiness.

Indiana University Bloomington biologists report in an upcoming issue of Molecular Microbiology that exposure to the extracellular DNA (eDNA) released by dying neighbors stops the sticky holdfasts of living Caulobacter from adhering to surfaces, preventing cells from joining bacterial biofilms. Less sticky cells are more likely to escape established colonies, out to where conditions may be better.

Harmless Caulobacter live in nutrient-poor, aqueous environments like lakes, rivers, and even tap water. Like many other bacteria, Caulobacter form biofilms, aggregations of cells held in place by a sticky matrix produced by the bacteria themselves. Bacteria in biofilms are more resistant to predators and to antibiotics, and are less affected by environmental stress. However, if environmental conditions worsen, it becomes advantageous for the bacteria to get away.

That presents a special problem for Caulobacter. In 2006, microbiologist Yves Brun, the project's principal investigator, and Brown University colleagues learned that the sugar-protein glue the bacteria use to attach themselves to the biofilm matrix is the strongest adhesive known in nature. Once a cell joins the collective, it is stuck there.

Caulobacter solves the problem of getting stuck in poor conditions by producing a clone of itself through cell replication. The mother cell heroically stays behind. But the daughter cell, called the "swarmer," starts out life with a flagellum, allowing it to move through water. The daughter has the option of swimming away from its mother and its relatives in the biofilm, or of settling in the same biofilm
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Contact: David Bricker
brickerd@indiana.edu
812-856-9035
Indiana University
Source:Eurekalert  

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