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Zombie bacteria are nothing to be afraid of

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Recently identified cell-cycle controls are targets for new drugs that fight infections by shutting down division.

A cell is not a soap bubble that can simply pinch in two to reproduce. The ability to faithfully copy genetic material and distribute it equally to daughter cells is fundamental to all forms of life. Even seemingly simple single-celled organisms must have the means to meticulously duplicate their DNA, carefully separate the newly copied genetic material, and delicately divide in two to ensure their offspring survive.

In eukaryotic cells such as those in plants and animals, an elaborate molecular circuitry coordinates duplication and separation of genetic material with division, much as the control knob on a washing machine coordinates agitation, rinsing and spinning. And the cellular control system, like the washing machine control system, has sensors that detect anomalies and shut things down if something is wrong.

What about bacteria? In the August 28 issue of Current Biology, Heidi A. Arjes, a doctoral student in the lab of Petra Levin, PhD, associate professor of biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, presents the first experimental data that show there are at least two fail-safe points in the bacterial cell cycle that tie DNA replication to cell division.

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