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Nature. 2009 Feb 12;457(7231):849-53. doi: 10.1038/nature07742.

Life without a wall or division machine in Bacillus subtilis.

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Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences, Newcastle University, Framlington Place, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE2 4HH, UK.


The cell wall is an essential structure for virtually all bacteria, forming a tough outer shell that protects the cell from damage and osmotic lysis. It is the target of our best antibiotics. L-form strains are wall-deficient derivatives of common bacteria that have been studied for decades. However, they are difficult to generate and typically require growth for many generations on osmotically protective media with antibiotics or enzymes that kill walled forms. Despite their potential importance for understanding antibiotic resistance and pathogenesis, little is known about their basic cell biology or their means of propagation. We have developed a controllable system for generating L-forms in the highly tractable model bacterium Bacillus subtilis. Here, using genome sequencing, we identify a single point mutation that predisposes cells to grow without a wall. We show that propagation of L-forms does not require the normal FtsZ-dependent division machine but occurs by a remarkable extrusion-resolution mechanism. This novel form of propagation provides insights into how early forms of cellular life may have proliferated.

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