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Caltech researchers find pulsating response to stress in bacteria
Date:11/3/2011

al to B. subtilis that inhibits the production of ATP, the energy-carrying molecules of cells. The team found that the stress induced by this chemical triggers interactions within a set of genescollectively called a genetic circuit. This circuit, which contains a set of positive and negative feedback loops, generates sustained pulses of activity in a key regulatory protein called σ^B ("sigma B"). The researchers attached fluorescent proteins to the circuit, causing the cells to glow green when σ^B was activated. By making movies of the flashing cells, the team could then study the dynamics of the circuit.

The key to this pulsating mechanism is the variability inherent in how proteins are made, the researchers say. The number of copies of any specific protein in a given cell fluctuates over time. The bacterial gene circuit amplifies these molecular fluctuations, also called noise, to generate discrete pulses of σB activation. The stress also activates another key protein that modulates the pulse frequencies.

By turning a steady input (the stress) into an oscillating output (the activation of σ^B) the genetic circuit is analogous to an electrical inverter, a device that converts direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC), explains Michael Elowitz, professor of biology and bioengineering at Caltech, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and coauthor of the paper. "You might think you need some kind of elaborate circuitry to implement that, but the cell can do it with just a few proteins, and by taking advantage of noise."

This work provides a blueprint for how relatively simple genetic circuits can generate complex and dynamic behaviors in individual cells, the researchers say. "We're excited to think that similar mechanisms may occur in other cellular processes," Locke says. "It'd be interesting in the future to see which aspects of this circuit architecture also appear in more complex systems, suc
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Contact: Deborah Williams-Hedges
debwms@caltech.edu
626-395-3227
California Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert  

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