Sunday 15 September 2013

How quickly can E.coli grow?

MIT physicist Jeremy England mathematically has modeled the replication of E. coli bacteria and found that the process is nearly as efficient as possible: E. coli produce at most only about six times more heat than they need to meet the constraints of the second law of thermodynamics.

He focused on the biological process of cell division, through which one cell becomes two. During the 20-minute replication process, a bacterium consumes a great deal of food, rearranges many of its molecules -- including DNA and proteins -- and then splits into two cells. One of the common reactions that occur during replication is formation of new peptide bonds, which form the backbone of proteins.

The finding suggests that bacteria could grow dramatically faster than they do now and still obey the second law of thermodynamics. England says that because cell replication is just one of the many tasks E. coli need to perform, it's unlikely they would evolve to their most efficient possible growth rate. However, for synthetic biology applications, it may be useful to create bacteria that can divide faster, which this paper shows is theoretically possible.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Chemical Physics, for further details see:

Jeremy L. England. Statistical physics of self-replication. The Journal of Chemical Physics, 2013; 139 (12): 121923 DOI: 10.1063/1.4818538

Posted by Tim Sandle

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