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Science. 2003 Jul 25;301(5632):510-3. Epub 2003 Jun 19.

Cannibalism by sporulating bacteria.

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


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.

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