Editors' ChoiceMicrobiology

Noise, Gene Expression, and Competence

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Science's STKE  31 Jul 2007:
Vol. 2007, Issue 397, pp. tw276
DOI: 10.1126/stke.3972007tw276

The soil bacterium Bacillus subtilis can become "competent"--it can take up genetic material from its surroundings. Competence is regulated by the protein ComK, which controls the genes responsible for DNA uptake. However, cells can only transition to competence in a random fashion during a limited period of time at the beginning of the stationary phase of growth. Maamar et al. (see the Perspective by Mettetal and van Oudenaarden) now find that temporal regulation of comK transcription defines the "window of opportunity" during which cells can become competent, and intrinsic noise in gene expression controls the rate at which stochastic transitions to the competent state occur.

H. Maamar, A. Raj, D. Dubnau, Noise in gene expression determines cell fate in Bacillus subtilis. Science 317, 526-529 (2007). [Abstract] [Full Text]

J. T. Mettetal, A. van Oudenaarden, Necessary noise. Science 317, 463-464 (2007). [Summary] [Full Text]