Inhibition of cell division in rod-shaped bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis results in elongation into long filaments many times the length of dividing cells. As a first step in characterizing the Rhizobium meliloti cell division machinery, we tested whether R. meliloti cells could also form long filaments after cell division was blocked. Unexpectedly, DNA-damaging agents, such as mitomycin C and nalidixic acid, caused only limited elongation. Instead, mitomycin C in particular induced a significant proportion of the cells to branch at the poles. Moreover, methods used to inhibit septation, such as FtsZ overproduction and cephalexin treatment, induced growing cells to swell, bud, or branch while increasing in mass, whereas filamentation was not observed. Overproduction of E. coli FtsZ in R. meliloti resulted in the same branched morphology, as did overproduction of R. meliloti FtsZ in Agrobacterium tumefaciens. These results suggest that in these normally rod-shaped species and perhaps others, branching and swelling are default pathways for increasing mass when cell division is blocked
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