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The sweet smell of E. coli division

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Plasmids are weapons of mass destruction within the prokaryotic genome. They extend the metabolic capacity of their host, allowing it to invade and survive in new environments, and confer pathogenicity and antibiotic resistance to otherwise benign bacteria. They also play a crucial role in bacterial evolution. When compared to plasmid-mediated horizontal gene transfer in prokaryotes, our feeble efforts to generate genetic variation by sexual reproduction are laughable.

Despite the variety of advantages they confer on bacteria, the relationship between plasmids and their hosts is complex. While at times it appears mutualistic, it sometimes seems to veer towards parasitism. The more selfish aspects of their behaviour seem to support the argument that plasmids should be considered as simple living organisms in their own right.

In this talk Dr Summers will tell the story of a research project that has that has been conducted in his laboratory in Cambridge for over twenty years. Starting as a study of the mechanisms that ensure E. coli plasmids are transmitted to both daughter cells at division, it led to the discovery that plasmids selfishly regulate the bacterial cell cycle to ensure their own survival. As a bonus the study has also revealed a previously unknown, and very unexpected, mechanism by which bacteria regulate their own cell division.

Everyone is welcome. Free for members, £2 on the door for non-members. Followed by refreshments (that means smoothies, cheese and grapes!).

This talk is part of the SciSoc – Cambridge University Scientific Society series.

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