Two opposing models have been put forward in the literature to describe the changes in the shape of individual cells in steady-state growth that take place during the cell cycle: the model, which maintains that the regulating dimension is cell length, and the model, which asserts it to be cell volume. In addition, the former model envisages cell diameter as decreasing with length up to constriction whereas the latter sees it as being constrained by the rigid cell wall. These two models differ in the correlations they predict between the various cellular dimensions (diameter, length, volume) not only across the entire population of bacteria but also, and especially, within subpopulations that define specific cell-cycle events (division, for example, or onset of constriction); the coefficients of variation at these specific events are also expected to be very different. Observations from cells prepared for electron microscopy (air-dried) and for phase-contrast microscopy (hydrated) appeared qualitatively largely in accordance with the predictions of the model. To obtain a more quantitative comparison, simulations were carried out of populations defined by each of the models; again, the results favoured the model. Finally, in age-selected cells using membrane elution, the diameter–length and diameter–volume correlations were in complete agreement with the model, as were the coefficients of variation. It is concluded that, at least with respect to cell-cycle events such as onset of constriction and cell division, length rather than volume is the controlling dimension.


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