Overview: development in bacteria: spore formation in Bacillus subtilis
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Like eukaryotes, bacteria possess complex developmental programs that drive environmental adaptation and morphological differentiation. In some species, these morphological changes are quite elaborate and result in major changes in cell appearance, including the formation of ornate appendages. The ease with which some bacteria can be manipulated makes them highly attractive model systems for developmental analysis. In this set of reviews, we tackle the best studied of these systems, spore formation in Bacillus subtilis. Construction of a spore initiates in response to starvation, takes each cell about 8 h and is directed by a tightly controlled genetic program. First, the cell creates an internal protoplast with its own copy of the chromosome. Over the next several hours, development continues as proteins synthesized within the protoplast as well as in the surrounding cell cytoplasm coalesce into the various complex structures that comprise the spore. The resulting cell is metabolically dormant and as close to indestructible as any cell found on earth. Nonetheless, the spore retains the ability to revive almost immediately when nutrient returns to the environment. Here, we review the genetic control of spore formation, the structure and assembly of several major spore components, the process of germination, and the environmental and disease implications of spores. As these reviews document, spore formation in B. subtilis has been among the most productive systems for understanding both the broad themes and the molecular basis of development. Not only does this system continue to add to our understanding of these questions, but it provides a particularly powerful means to address the cell biological dimension of development.
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