Fat bacteria? Skinny bacteria? From our perspective on high, they all seem to be about the same size. In fact, they are.
Precisely why has been an open question, according to Rice University chemist Anatoly Kolomeisky, who now has a theory.
A primal mechanism in bacteria that keeps them in their personal Goldilocks zones — that is, just right — appears to depend on two random means of regulation, growth and division, that cancel each other out. The same mechanism may give researchers a new perspective on disease, including cancer.
The “minimal model” by Kolomeisky, Rice postdoctoral researcher and lead author Hamid Teimouri and Rupsha Mukherjee, a former research assistant at Rice now at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar, appears in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.
“Everywhere we see bacteria, they more or less have the same sizes and shapes,” Kolomeisky said. “It’s the same for the cells in our tissues. This is a signature of homeostasis, where a system tries to have physiological parameters that are almost the same, like body temperature or our blood pressure or the sugar level in our blood.
“Nature likes to have these parameters in a very narrow range so that living systems can work the most efficiently,” he said. “Deviations from these parameters are a signature of disease.”
Bacteria are models of homeostasis, sticking to a narrow distribution of sizes and shape. “But the explanations we have so far are not good,” Kolomeisky said. “As we know, science does not like magic. But something like magic — thresholds — is proposed to explain it.”
For bacteria, he said, there is no threshold. “Essentially, there’s no need for one,” he said. “There are a lot of underlying biochemical processes, but they can be roughly divided into two stochastic