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Biophys J. 2011 Jul 20;101(2):327-35. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2011.06.005.

Mechanical control of bacterial cell shape.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.


In bacteria, cytoskeletal filament bundles such as MreB control the cell morphology and determine whether the cell takes on a spherical or a rod-like shape. Here we use a theoretical model to describe the interplay of cell wall growth, mechanics, and cytoskeletal filaments in shaping the bacterial cell. We predict that growing cells without MreB exhibit an instability that favors rounded cells. MreB can mechanically reinforce the cell wall and prevent the onset of instability. We propose that the overall bacterial shape is determined by a dynamic turnover of cell wall material that is controlled by mechanical stresses in the wall. The model affirms that morphological transformations with and without MreB are reversible, and quantitatively describes the growth of irregular shapes and cells undergoing division. The theory also suggests a unique coupling between mechanics and chemistry that can control organismal shapes in general.

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