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Science 301 (5632): 510-513

Copyright © 2003 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Cannibalism by Sporulating Bacteria

José E. González-Pastor,* Errett C. Hobbs, Richard Losick{dagger}

Abstract: Spore formation by the bacterium Bacillus subtilis is an elaborate developmental process that is triggered by nutrient limitation. Here we report that cells that have entered the pathway to sporulate produce and export a killing factor and a signaling protein that act cooperatively to block sister cells from sporulating and to cause them to lyse. The sporulating cells feed on the nutrients thereby released, which allows them to keep growing rather than to complete morphogenesis. We propose that sporulation is a stress-response pathway of last resort and that B. subtilis delays a commitment to spore formation by cannibalizing its siblings.

Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, The Biological Laboratories, Harvard University, 16 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.

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* Present address: Centro de Astrobiología (CSIC-INTA), Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial, Carretera de Ajalvir, km 4, 28850 Torrejón de Ardoz, Madrid, Spain.

{dagger} To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: losick{at}mcb.harvard.edu


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