Chromosome Translocation Inflates Bacillus Forespores and Impacts Cellular Morphology

Cell. 2018 Feb 8;172(4):758-770.e14. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.01.027.


The means by which the physicochemical properties of different cellular components together determine bacterial cell shape remain poorly understood. Here, we investigate a programmed cell-shape change during Bacillus subtilis sporulation, when a rod-shaped vegetative cell is transformed to an ovoid spore. Asymmetric cell division generates a bigger mother cell and a smaller, hemispherical forespore. The septum traps the forespore chromosome, which is translocated to the forespore by SpoIIIE. Simultaneously, forespore size increases as it is reshaped into an ovoid. Using genetics, timelapse microscopy, cryo-electron tomography, and mathematical modeling, we demonstrate that forespore growth relies on membrane synthesis and SpoIIIE-mediated chromosome translocation, but not on peptidoglycan or protein synthesis. Our data suggest that the hydrated nucleoid swells and inflates the forespore, displacing ribosomes to the cell periphery, stretching septal peptidoglycan, and reshaping the forespore. Our results illustrate how simple biophysical interactions between core cellular components contribute to cellular morphology.

Keywords: Bacillus subtilis; Gibbs/Donnan effect; Langevin simulations; SpoIIIE; cell shape; cell size; chromosome translocation; cryo-electron tomography; sporulation; turgor pressure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Asymmetric Cell Division / physiology*
  • Bacillus subtilis / physiology*
  • Bacillus subtilis / ultrastructure
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Chromosomes, Bacterial / genetics
  • Chromosomes, Bacterial / metabolism*
  • Peptidoglycan / biosynthesis
  • Peptidoglycan / genetics
  • Protein Biosynthesis / physiology
  • Spores, Bacterial / genetics
  • Spores, Bacterial / metabolism*
  • Spores, Bacterial / ultrastructure
  • Translocation, Genetic*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Peptidoglycan
  • spore-specific proteins, Bacillus