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Mol Microbiol. 2004 Feb;51(3):827-35.

Initiation of intracellular offspring in Epulopiscium.

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Department of Microbiology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.


Epulopiscium spp. are the largest heterotrophic bacteria yet described. A distinguishing feature of the Epulopiscium group is their viviparous production of multiple, internal offspring as a means of cellular reproduction. Based on their phylogenetic position, among low G + C Gram-positive endospore-forming bacteria, and the remarkable morphological similarity between developing endospores and Epulopiscium offspring, we hypothesized that intracellular offspring production in Epulopiscium evolved from endospore formation. These observations also raise the possibility that a cell with the capacity to form multiple intracellular offspring was the ancestor of all contemporary endospore-forming bacteria. In an effort to characterize mechanisms common to both processes, we describe the earliest stages of offspring formation in Epulopiscium. First, in anticipation of polar division, some of the mother cell DNA coalesces at the cell poles. FtsZ then localizes in a bipolar pattern and the cell divides. A portion of the pole-associated DNA is trapped within the small cells formed by division at both poles. As development progresses, more pole-associated DNA is apparently packaged into the offspring primordia. These results illustrate three mechanisms, the reorganization of cellular DNA, asymmetric division and DNA packaging, that are common to both endospore formation in Bacillus subtilis and the production of active, intracellular offspring in Epulopiscium. Unlike most endospore formers, Epulopiscium partitions only a small proportion of mother cell DNA into the developing offspring.

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