Following the fate of bacterial cells experiencing sudden chromosome loss.

PMID 25922388


Chromosomal DNA is a constant source of information, essential for any given cell to respond and adapt to changing conditions. Here, we investigated the fate of exponentially growing bacterial cells experiencing a sudden and rapid loss of their entire chromosome. Utilizing Bacillus subtilis cells harboring an inducible copy of the endogenous toxin yqcG, which encodes an endonuclease, we induced the formation of a population of cells that lost their genetic information simultaneously. Surprisingly, these DNA-less cells, termed DLCs, did not lyse immediately and exhibited normal cellular morphology for a period of at least 5 h after DNA loss. This cellular integrity was manifested by their capacity to maintain an intact membrane and membrane potential and cell wall architecture similar to those of wild-type cells. Unlike growing cells that exhibit a dynamic profile of macromolecules, DLCs displayed steady protein and RNA reservoirs. Remarkably, following DLCs by time lapse microscopy revealed that they succeeded in synthesizing proteins, elongating, and dividing, apparently forming de novo Z rings at the midcell position. Taken together, the persistence of key cellular events in DLCs indicates that the information to carry out lengthy processes is harbored within the remaining molecular components. Perturbing bacterial growth by the use of antibiotics targeting replication, transcription, or translation has been a subject of study for many years; however, the consequences of a more dramatic event, in which the entire bacterial chromosome is lost, have not been described. Here, we followed the fate of bacterial cells encountering an abrupt loss of their entire genome. Surprisingly, the cells preserved an intact envelope and functioning macromolecules. Furthermore, cells lacking their genome could still elongate and divide hours after the loss of DNA. Our data suggest that the information stored in the transient reservoir of macromolecules is sufficient to carry out complex and lengthy processes even in the absence of the chromosome. Based on our study, the formation of DNA-less bacteria could serve as a novel vaccination strategy, enabling an efficient induction of the immune system without the risk of bacterial propagation within the host.