Poly(hydroxyalkanoates) (PHAs) are bacterial polyesters offering a biodegradable alternative to petrochemical plastics. The intracellular formation and degradation of PHAs is a dynamic process that strongly depends on the availability of carbon and other nutrients. Carbon excess and nitrogen limitation are considered to favor PHA accumulation, whereas carbon limitation triggers PHA depolymerization when all other essential nutrients are present in excess. We studied the population dynamics of Pseudomonas putida
KT2440 at the single cell level during different physiological conditions, favoring first PHA polymerization during growth on octanoic acid, and then PHA depolymerization during carbon limitation. PHAs accumulate intracellularly in granules, and were proposed to separate preferentially together with nucleic acids, leading to two daughter cells containing approximately equal amounts of PHA. However, we could show that such P. putida
KT2440 cells show bistable behavior when exposed to carbon limitation, and separate into two subpopulations: one with high and one with low PHA. This suggests an asymmetric PHA distribution during cell division under carbon limitation, which has a significant influence on our understanding of PHA mobilization.
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