Article | Published:

Biphasic growth dynamics control cell division in Caulobacter crescentus

Nature Microbiology volume 2, Article number: 17116 (2017) | Download Citation


Cell size is specific to each species and impacts cell function. Various phenomenological models for cell size regulation have been proposed, but recent work in bacteria has suggested an ‘adder’ model, in which a cell increments its size by a constant amount between each division. However, the coupling between cell size, shape and constriction remains poorly understood. Here, we investigate size control and the cell cycle dependence of bacterial growth using multigenerational cell growth and shape data for single Caulobacter crescentus cells. Our analysis reveals a biphasic mode of growth: a relative timer phase before constriction where cell growth is correlated to its initial size, followed by a pure adder phase during constriction. Cell wall labelling measurements reinforce this biphasic model, in which a crossover from uniform lateral growth to localized septal growth is observed. We present a mathematical model that quantitatively explains this biphasic ‘mixer’ model for cell size control.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    et al. Scaling laws governing stochastic growth and division of single bacterial cells. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 15912–15917 (2014).

  2. 2.

    et al. Intergenerational continuity of cell shape dynamics in Caulobacter crescentus. Sci. Rep. 5, 9155 (2015).

  3. 3.

    et al. Robust growth of Escherichia coli. Curr. Biol. 20, 1099–1103 (2010).

  4. 4.

    et al. A constant size extension drives bacterial cell size homeostasis. Cell 159, 1433–1446 (2014).

  5. 5.

    et al. Cell-size control and homeostasis in bacteria. Curr. Biol. 25, 385–391 (2015).

  6. 6.

    , & Adder and a coarse-grained approach to cell size homeostasis in bacteria. Curr. Opin. Cell Biol. 38, 38–44 (2016).

  7. 7.

    Cell size regulation in bacteria. Phys. Rev. Lett. 112, 208102 (2014).

  8. 8.

    , & Cell-size homeostasis and the incremental rule in a bacterial pathogen. Biophys. J. 109, 521–528 (2015).

  9. 9.

    , & Mathematics of cell division in Escherichia coli. Curr. Top. Mol. Genet. 1, 187–194 (1993).

  10. 10.

    & Cell-size maintenance: universal strategy revealed. Trends Microbiol. 23, 4–6 (2015).

  11. 11.

    , , & Growth, cell and nuclear divisions in some bacteria. J. Gen. Microbiol. 29, 421–434 (1962).

  12. 12.

    , , , & Correlation between size and age at different events in the cell division cycle of Escherichia coli. J. Bacteriol. 143, 1241–1252 (1980).

  13. 13.

    , & Concerted control of Escherichia coli cell division. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 3431–3435 (2014).

  14. 14.

    et al. A noisy linear map underlies oscillations in cell size and gene expression in bacteria. Nature 523, 357–360 (2015).

  15. 15.

    , & Cell length, cell growth and cell division. Nature 264, 328–333 (1976).

  16. 16.

    Bilinear cell growth of Escherichia coli. J. Bacteriol. 148, 730–733 (1981).

  17. 17.

    & Relative rates of surface and volume synthesis set bacterial cell size. Cell 165, 1479–1492 (2016).

  18. 18.

    & Metabolism, cell growth and the bacterial cell cycle. Nat. Rev. Microbiol. 7, 822–827 (2009).

  19. 19.

    The Biology of the Cell Cycle (CUP Archive, 1971).

  20. 20.

    et al. What determines cell size? BMC Biol. 10, 101 (2012).

  21. 21.

    , & Shape dynamics of growing cell walls. Soft Matter 12, 3442–3450 (2016).

  22. 22.

    , , , & Phase resetting reveals network dynamics underlying a bacterial cell cycle. PLoS Comput. Biol. 8, e1002778 (2012).

  23. 23.

    et al. Rod-like bacterial shape is maintained by feedback between cell curvature and cytoskeletal localization. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, E1025–E1034 (2014).

  24. 24.

    et al. The tubulin homologue FtsZ contributes to cell elongation by guiding cell wall precursor synthesis in Caulobacter crescentus. Mol. Microbiol. 64, 938–952 (2007).

  25. 25.

    et al. In situ probing of newly synthesized peptidoglycan in live bacteria with fluorescent d-amino acids. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 51, 12519–12523 (2012).

  26. 26.

    , , & Cell shape dynamics in Escherichia coli. Biophys. J. 94, 251–264 (2008).

  27. 27.

    in Microscopy Techniques (ed. Rietdorf, J.) 201–243 (Springer, 2005).

Download references


The authors thank C. Wright and S. Iyer-Biswas for measurements and shape analysis of C. crescentus single-cell data1,2. The authors thank S. Crosson and A. Fiebig for contributing reagents, materials and discussions. The authors acknowledge funding from the National Science Foundation Physics of Living Systems (NSF PHY-1305542), the National Science Foundation Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) at the University of Chicago (NSF DMR-1420709), the W. M. Keck Foundation and the Graduate Program in Biophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago (T32 EB009412/EB/NIBIB NIH HHS/United States). S.B. acknowledges support from the University College London for completion of part of this work.

Author information


  1. James Franck Institute, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA

    • Shiladitya Banerjee
    • , Klevin Lo
    • , Aaron R. Dinner
    •  & Norbert F. Scherer
  2. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK

    • Shiladitya Banerjee
  3. Institute for the Physics of Living Systems, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK

    • Shiladitya Banerjee
  4. Institute for Biophysical Dynamics, The University of Chicago, Chicago, llinois 60637, USA

    • Klevin Lo
    • , Matthew K. Daddysman
    • , Alan Selewa
    • , Aaron R. Dinner
    •  & Norbert F. Scherer
  5. Biophysical Sciences Graduate Program, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA

    • Alan Selewa
  6. Department of Chemistry, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA

    • Thomas Kuntz
    • , Aaron R. Dinner
    •  & Norbert F. Scherer


  1. Search for Shiladitya Banerjee in:

  2. Search for Klevin Lo in:

  3. Search for Matthew K. Daddysman in:

  4. Search for Alan Selewa in:

  5. Search for Thomas Kuntz in:

  6. Search for Aaron R. Dinner in:

  7. Search for Norbert F. Scherer in:


S.B., K.L., A.R.D. and N.F.S. designed the research. S.B., K.L., A.S., M.K.D. and T.K. performed the research. S.B., A.R.D. and N.F.S. wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Aaron R. Dinner or Norbert F. Scherer.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Notes 1–6, Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary References, Supplementary Figures 1–13.

About this article

Publication history