Size is a universally defining characteristic of all living cells and tissues and is intrinsically linked with cell genotype, growth, and physiology. Many mutations have been identified to alter cell size, but pleiotropic effects have largely hampered our ability to probe how cell size specifically affects fundamental cellular properties, such as DNA content and intracellular localization. To systematically interrogate the impact of cell morphology on bacterial physiology, we used fluorescence-activated cell sorting to enrich a library of hundreds of Escherichia coli mutants in the essential cytoskeletal protein MreB for subtle changes in cell shape, cumulatively spanning ∼5-fold variation in average cell volume. Critically, pleiotropic effects in the mutated library are most likely minimized because only one gene was mutated and because growth rate was unaffected, thereby allowing us to query the general effects of morphology on cellular physiology over a large range of cell sizes with high resolution. We discovered linear scaling of the abundance of DNA and the key division protein FtsZ with cell volume, a strong dependency of sensitivity to specific antibiotics on cell width, and a simple correlation between MreB localization pattern and cell width. Our systematic, quantitative approach reveals complex and dynamic links between bacterial morphology and physiology and should be generally applicable for probing size-related genotype-phenotype relationships.
Keywords: FACS; FtsZ; MreB; PBP2; antibiotic sensitivity; cell size; cell sorting; cytoskeleton; geometric sensing; morphogenesis.
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