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Elife. 2018 May 29;7. pii: e33099. doi: 10.7554/eLife.33099.

Metabolic interactions between dynamic bacterial subpopulations.

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Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States.
Department of Applied Physics, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, United States.
Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, United States.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Pasadena, United States.


Individual microbial species are known to occupy distinct metabolic niches within multi-species communities. However, it has remained largely unclear whether metabolic specialization can similarly occur within a clonal bacterial population. More specifically, it is not clear what functions such specialization could provide and how specialization could be coordinated dynamically. Here, we show that exponentially growing Bacillus subtilis cultures divide into distinct interacting metabolic subpopulations, including one population that produces acetate, and another population that differentially expresses metabolic genes for the production of acetoin, a pH-neutral storage molecule. These subpopulations exhibit distinct growth rates and dynamic interconversion between states. Furthermore, acetate concentration influences the relative sizes of the different subpopulations. These results show that clonal populations can use metabolic specialization to control the environment through a process of dynamic, environmentally-sensitive state-switching.


B. subtilis; Bacillus subtilis; acetate; computational biology; division of labor; fermentation; infectious disease; microbiology; overflow metabolism; systems biology

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