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Seeing How Antibiotics Work

One would assume offhand that the pathways for synthesis and assembly of the major constituents of a bacterial cell “talk to each other,” i. e. they are tightly interwoven processes. Tampering with the biosynthesis of one should affect all the others, right? Wouldn’t you expect, for instance, that if protein synthesis were to be suddenly stopped,nucleic acid synthesis would also stop and vice versa? Of course, in time this has to happen, but how fast? For a while at least, enzymes and ribosomes that present at time zero may well continue to churn out their products. Indeed, several major biosynthetic activities act as if they were independent of one another initially at least. (Not all, however. We know, for instance, that when bacteria are stressed, they undergo the stringent response wherein the synthesis of ribosomal and transfer RNAs ceases abruptly but that of mRNA continues.) The major biosynthetic functions of a bacterial cell act as if compartmentalized, so that inhibiting one does not necessarily result in the immediate inhibition of all others. It’s like when a car runs out of gas, it can still coast for a while. Thus, we must keep the time scale in mind. Over a short time range, say a couple of generation times, some of the biosynthetic activities continue and the cells become distinctive at a subcellular as well as a molecular level.

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