Doctor of Philosophy, Harvard University (2010)
It has long been proposed that turgor pressure plays an essential role during bacterial growth by driving mechanical expansion of the cell wall. This hypothesis is based on analogy to plant cells, for which this mechanism has been established, and on experiments in which the growth rate of bacterial cultures was observed to decrease as the osmolarity of the growth medium was increased. To distinguish the effect of turgor pressure from pressure-independent effects that osmolarity might have on cell growth, we monitored the elongation of single Escherichia coli cells while rapidly changing the osmolarity of their media. By plasmolyzing cells, we found that cell-wall elastic strain did not scale with growth rate, suggesting that pressure does not drive cell-wall expansion. Furthermore, in response to hyper- and hypoosmotic shock, E. coli cells resumed their preshock growth rate and relaxed to their steady-state rate after several minutes, demonstrating that osmolarity modulates growth rate slowly, independently of pressure. Oscillatory hyperosmotic shock revealed that although plasmolysis slowed cell elongation, the cells nevertheless "stored" growth such that once turgor was reestablished the cells elongated to the length that they would have attained had they never been plasmolyzed. Finally, MreB dynamics were unaffected by osmotic shock. These results reveal the simple nature of E. coli cell-wall expansion: that the rate of expansion is determined by the rate of peptidoglycan insertion and insertion is not directly dependent on turgor pressure, but that pressure does play a basic role whereby it enables full extension of recently inserted peptidoglycan.
View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1402591111
View details for Web of Science ID 000336411300068
A common feature of walled organisms is their exposure to osmotic forces that challenge the mechanical integrity of cells while driving elongation. Most bacteria rely on their cell wall to bear osmotic stress and determine cell shape. Wall thickness can vary greatly among species, with Gram-positive bacteria having a thicker wall than Gram-negative bacteria. How wall dimensions and mechanical properties are regulated and how they affect growth have not yet been elucidated. To investigate the regulation of wall thickness in the rod-shaped Gram-positive bacterium Bacillus subtilis, we analyzed exponentially growing cells in different media. Using transmission electron and epifluorescence microscopy, we found that wall thickness and strain were maintained even between media that yielded a threefold change in growth rate. To probe mechanisms of elongation, we developed a biophysical model of the Gram-positive wall that balances the mechanical effects of synthesis of new material and removal of old material through hydrolysis. Our results suggest that cells can vary their growth rate without changing wall thickness or strain by maintaining a constant ratio of synthesis and hydrolysis rates. Our model also indicates that steady growth requires wall turnover on the same timescale as elongation, which can be driven primarily by hydrolysis rather than insertion. This perspective of turnover-driven elongation provides mechanistic insight into previous experiments involving mutants whose growth rate was accelerated by the addition of lysozyme or autolysin. Our approach provides a general framework for deconstructing shape maintenance in cells with thick walls by integrating wall mechanics with the kinetics and regulation of synthesis and turnover.
View details for DOI 10.1016/j.bpj.2013.04.047
View details for Web of Science ID 000320423700008