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Siblings Strike Again

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Bacteria capable of sporulation go out of their way to grow rather than sporulate. They will therefore try to obtain needed nutrients, even at the cost of killing their neighbors. When starved for nutrients, cells of Bacillus subtilis engage in cannibalism, that is they lyse their siblings and use the nutrients thus obtained to postpone their own sporulation. A similar phenomenon, termed fratricide, has been reported in Streptococcus pneumoniae where the killing of siblings is linked to the induction of competence and the release of DNA from lysed cells. The antimicrobial agents secreted within the same colony by either cannibalism or fratricide belong to the family of bacteriocins. Now, Be’er and his colleagues report a third unique situation where bacterial stress leads to sibling death.

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