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Observation of universal dynamics in the recovery of single cells to stress

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Stress response in cells is understood as an organized adaptive response that allows cells to respond to changes in external conditions by activating specific pathways. Here we investigate the dynamics of single cells when perturbed by acute stress beyond their adaptive potential. We show that when the growth of bacteria is arrested by an acute transient stress, their relaxation dynamics back to growth after the stress follow a universal behavior. By introducing a generic model for the cellular network, we show that the universal relaxation dynamics can predict the outcome of antibiotic persistence measurements. Further experiments under different stress conditions support the predictions of the model and identify a typical time-scale for the universal relaxation dynamics. Our results may account for the ubiquitous antibiotic persistence phenotype, as well as for the difficulty in attempts to link it to specific genes. More generally, our approach suggests that cellular response to acute perturbations may be described by universal properties of large random networks rather than by specific pathway activation.

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