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Tea tree oil (TTO) stimulates autolysis in exponential and stationary phase cells of Escherichia coli. Electron micrographs of cells grown in the presence of TTO showed the loss of electron dense material, coagulation of cell cytoplasm and formation of extracellular blebs. Stationary phase cells demonstrated less TTO-stimulated autolysis and also had greater tolerance to TTO-induced cell death, compared to exponentially grown cells. It was also revealed that a subpopulation of stationary phase cells demonstrated increased tolerance to TTO-bactericidal effects.