In bacterial cells, the overproduction of metabolites is normally avoided by mechanisms that are similar in principle to control systems in engineering. In this issue, Reaves et al . ( page 237 ) report what happens in mutant bacteria that lack a supposedly essential control mechanism to prevent excessive production of pyrimidine nucleotides — metabolites that act as building blocks for the synthesis of genes, but which are potentially toxic if allowed to accumulate. Instead of observing the expected accumulation, the authors discovered a mechanism in which excess nucleotides are eliminated. In so doing, they identified a plausible role for an enzyme whose physiological function had hitherto been unknown * . We all know that a kitchen sink is liable to overflow if the tap is left on with the plughole blocked. In most domestic sinks this danger is averted, at least partially, by having an overflow outlet near the top. But in more elaborate engineered systems, such as the domestic toilet, an overflow is avoided by means of negative feedback: as soon as the water in the tank reaches a certain level, the inflow is switched off. Bacterial metabolism is in many ways similar, in that feedback
Nature – Springer Journals
Published: Jul 31, 2013
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