Cannibalism in Starving Bacteria

Science's STKE  29 Jul 2003:
Vol. 2003, Issue 193, pp. tw297-TW297
DOI: 10.1126/stke.2003.193.tw297

Bacillus subtilis is a spore-forming bacterium that can persist for years in a resistant state. When faced with starvation, bacteria instead enter the complex developmental pathway of spore formation. Gonzalez-Pastor et al. (see the Perspective by Engelberg-Kulka and Hazan) have found that bacteria en route to sporulation produce a toxin (sporulation-killing factor) similar to peptide antibiotics that lyses sibling cells not committed to sporulation. The killing operon also produces its own export pump and confers resistance to the killing peptide. The nutrient boost from the lysed cells allows the surviving cells to postpone sporulation, to escape its energetic costs, and to continue replication. A signaling factor (sporulation-delaying protein) mediates this escape from sporulation via a transcription factor that stimulates lipid oxidation and adenosine 5′-triphosphate production to restore energy reserves.

J. E. González-Pastor, E. C. Hobbs, R. Losick, Cannibalism by sporulating bacteria. Science 301, 510-513 (2003). [Abstract] [Full Text]

H. Engelberg-Kulka, R. Hazan, Cannibals defy starvation and avoid sporulation. Science 301, 467-468 (2003). [Summary] [Full Text]