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Bent Out of Shape: Stressed Bacteria Accumulate Misfolded Proteins and Stop Growing

Whether a man, a mouse or a microbe, stress is bad for you. Experiments in bacteria by molecular biologists in Peter Chien’s lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with others at MIT, have uncovered the mechanism that translates stress, such as exposure to extreme temperature, into blocked cell growth.

It turns out that stressful conditions cause some proteins to be literally bent out of shape, or misfolded, and they stop working, says Chien. “You might think of this as microbial temper tantrums. Bacteria deal with stress by destroying proteins. Specifically, we’ve shown that certain kinds of bacteria respond to high temperatures by destroying proteins needed for DNA replication. Therefore, they stop growing. The signal for this destruction turned out to be the buildup of proteins that were misfolded because of the stress.”

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