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J Bacteriol. 1987 May;169(5):1979-84.

Contraction of filaments of Escherichia coli after disruption of cell membrane by detergent.


The osmotic pressure within a living bacterium creates stresses in the peptidoglycan that stretch the sacculus. We measured the amount of stretch by monitoring the shrinkage of growing cells of Escherichia coli after removal of the osmotic pressure by disruption of the phospholipid membranes with sodium dodecyl sulfate. Because the rods of the wild type are so short, length changes of filaments of longer than 7 microns were measured on phase-contrast micrographs. The filaments were prepared by growing ftsA and ftsI strains under permissive conditions in rich medium and then shifting them to 42 degrees C for 40 to 180 min. During this time, the mutant cells became elongated but did not divide. The growing filaments were mounted on a glass surface that had been treated with poly-L-lysine or RNase. The filaments were photographed before being treated with sodium dodecyl sulfate. The filaments were rephotographed at the time when the first change in phase contrast was noted. Some filaments were also measured at 10-min time intervals from 0 to 60 min. The reduction in phase contrast signaled the leakage of solutes and the loss of turgor pressure. The average length of the filaments decreased 17%. If the circumference were stretched to the same degree, then the surface area in vivo would be 45% greater than in the relaxed state. For comparison, a fully cross-linked monolayer of E. coli peptidoglycan in its most compact conformation could stretch up to 300% in achieving the most extended conformation possible without splitting covalent bonds.

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