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Do Bacteria Have Built-In Cell Death Mechanisms?

Cell death, also known as apoptosis, is a significant part of normal animal development. However, the question arises whether bacteria, similar to higher organisms, have a built-in mechanism that determines when the cells die.

Researchers at the Hadassah Medical School of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel have for the first time described a unique cell death pathway in bacteria, which is comparable to apoptosis in higher organisms. The study published in the March 6 issue of the online, open-access journal PLoS Biology, shows that this newly described apoptotic-like death (ALD) pathway was prevented by another non-apoptotic programmed cell death (PCD) pathway that was mediated through the mazEF toxin-antitoxin system.

To their surprise, leading researcher Hanna Engelberg-Kulka, and her team discovered two very different death pathways in E. coli. Given that the bacterial cell death system they just discovered shared multiple characteristics with apoptosis in multicellular eukaryotes, they decided to call it Apoptotic-Like Death (ALD).

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