Although it differs from mammalian clocks, the circadian clock of cyanobacteria is a valuable model for understanding how such clocks function. At the heart of the cyanobacterial clock is a posttranslational regulation (PTR) circuit in which the phosphorylation of the clock protein KaiC oscillates. This circuit is apparently sufficient for generating rhythms, but it is connected to a transcriptional-translational (TTR) feedback loop more similar to the one that functions in mammals. This TTR loop is, at least in some conditions, dispensable. To understand the role of the TTR circuit, Teng et al. engineered cyanobacteria so that the circadian behavior of individual cells in a population of growing cells could be monitored. Cells engineered to lack the TTR mechanism had rhythmic clocks but fell out of synch with the other cells in a population over time. The experimental results together with mathematical modeling indicate that the TTR mechanism is important to allow cells to robustly stay in rhythm with one another in the absence of synchronizing external cues.
S.-W. Teng, S. Mukherji, J. R. Moffitt, S. de Buyl, E. K. O’Shea, Robust circadian oscillations in growing cyanobacteria require transcriptional feedback. Science 340, 737–740 (2013). [Abstract] [Full Text]