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Annu Rev Microbiol. 2015;69:361-79. doi: 10.1146/annurev-micro-091014-104313.

Physics of Intracellular Organization in Bacteria.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544; email:


With the realization that bacteria achieve exquisite levels of spatiotemporal organization has come the challenge of discovering the underlying mechanisms. In this review, we describe three classes of such mechanisms, each of which has physical origins: the use of landmarks, the creation of higher-order structures that enable geometric sensing, and the emergence of length scales from systems of chemical reactions coupled to diffusion. We then examine the diversity of geometric cues that exist even in cells with relatively simple geometries, and end by discussing both new technologies that could drive further discovery and the implications of our current knowledge for the behavior, fitness, and evolution of bacteria. The organizational strategies described here are employed in a wide variety of systems and in species across all kingdoms of life; in many ways they provide a general blueprint for organizing the building blocks of life.


curvature-mediated localization; emergent length scales; geometric cues; gradient formation; landmarks; reaction-diffusion systems

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