Thinking big: the tunability of bacterial cell size

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The determination of cell size is a fundamental challenge for all living organisms. In a given growth condition, cell size for a particular bacterial species typically falls within a narrow distribution. Nonetheless, size can vary enormously across species, and the size of a single bacterium can even vary substantially across growth conditions. Recent phenomenological studies have revived classic interest in how cells maintain their size and how they adjust their size with changes in growth rate. However, the mechanisms by which cells establish a particular size are relatively enigmatic. Here, we review existing knowledge on how size in rod-shaped bacteria is shaped by nutrient, mechanical, and genetic factors. We also examine obstacles to accurate size measurement and recent technologies that help to overcome these hurdles. Finally, we discuss the relevance of cell size to bacterial physiology.

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