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Keywords:

  • Bacillus subtilis;
  • differentiation;
  • cell fate;
  • development

Abstract

Bacillus subtilis is a Gram-positive bacterium that is well known for its ability to differentiate into metabolically inactive spores that are highly resistant to environmental stresses. In fact, populations of genetically identical B. subtilis comprise numerous distinct cell types. In addition to spores, cells can become genetically competent, motile, produce extracellular matrix or degradative enzymes, or secrete toxins that allow them to cannibalize their neighbors. Many of the cell fates listed above appear to be mutually exclusive. In this review, we discuss how individual cells within a population control their gene expression to ensure that proper regulation of differentiation occurs. These different cell fates are regulated by an intricate network that relies primarily on the activity of three major transcriptional regulators: Spo0A, DegU, and ComK. While individual cells must choose distinct cell fates, the population as a whole exhibits a spectrum of phenotypes whose diversity may increase fitness.