Surface Area to Volume Ratio: A Natural Variable for Bacterial Morphogenesis

Trends Microbiol. 2018 Oct;26(10):815-832. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2018.04.008. Epub 2018 May 26.


An immediately observable feature of bacteria is that cell size and shape are remarkably constant and characteristic for a given species in a particular condition, but vary quantitatively with physiological parameters such as growth rate, indicating both genetic and environmental regulation. However, despite decades of research, the molecular mechanisms underlying bacterial morphogenesis have remained incompletely characterized. We recently demonstrated that a wide range of bacterial species exhibit a robust surface area to volume ratio (SA/V) homeostasis. Because cell size, shape, and SA/V are mathematically interconnected, if SA/V is indeed the natural variable that cells actively monitor, this finding has critical implications for our understanding of bacterial morphogenesis, placing fundamental constraints on the sizes and shapes that cells can adopt. In this Opinion article we discuss the broad implications that this novel perspective has for the field of bacterial growth and morphogenesis.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / cytology*
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Homeostasis
  • Models, Biological