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Science AMA series: We’re Thomas Bartlett and Benjamin Bratton from Princeton University. The bacterium that causes cholera is curved. People have known this for 160 years, but never known how or why it’s curved. We figured it out… Ask us anything!
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The first observations made about most bacteria include a description of their cell shape. Only recently have we started to figure out how all of these different shapes arise, and to understand their purpose. Vibrio cholerae, the bacterium that causes the deadly epidemic disease cholera, is curved. We’ve known this since its discovery 160+ years ago, but never figured out how or why. Aside from the basic research angle (how does something so small self-organize into a complicated shape?) this question has serious human health implications – the world is currently gripped by a global cholera pandemic, infecting millions and killing over 100,000 annually. We are Thomas Bartlett (graduate student/PhD candidate, bacterial cell biologist) and Benjamin Bratton (postdoc, biophysicist and quantitative biologist), and we discovered the gene (and protein) necessary for V. cholerae curvature, CrvA (for curvature regulator in vibrio A). We found that CrvA curves the cell by causing one side of the cell to grow faster than the other, and developed some new tools/took some cool pictures along the way. We also found that curvature helps V. cholerae to swim in gels, as well as to colonize and pathogenize the host gut. Our paper just came out on Thursday, January 12th, in the journal Cell. We will be back at 3 pm ET to answer your questions, Ask us anything! Here is a write-up of our research! - A great write-up without all of the technical detail; also not behind a paywall! Here is our paper! Find Benjamin Bratton | Twitter | Google Scholar Find Thomas Bartlett | Twitter | Google Scholar EDIT 1: Aaaaaaaaaaaaand we’re live! Thanks for all of the attention and great questions! We’ll do our best to answer them all. EDIT 2: Okay, we are going to call it (for now, anyway)! Thanks for all of the great questions (and answers). We will do our best to get to the rest of the unanswered questions at a later date.