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Mar 02, 2015
Nutrient scarcity is a common condition in nature, but the resulting extremely low growth rates (below 0.025 h(-1) ) are an unexplored research area in Bacillus subtilis. To understand microbial life in natural environments, studying the adaptation of B. subtilis to near-zero growth conditions is relevant. To this end, a chemostat modified for culturing an asporogenous B. subtilis sigF mutant strain at extremely low growth rates (also named a retentostat) was set up, and biomass accumulation, culture viability, metabolite production and cell morphology were analysed. During retentostat culturing, the specific growth rate decreased to a minimum of 0.00006 h(-1) , corresponding to a doubling time of 470 days. The energy distribution between growth and maintenance-related processes showed that a state of near-zero growth was reached. Remarkably, a filamentous cell morphology emerged, suggesting that cell separation is impaired under near-zero growth conditions. To evaluate the corresponding molecular adaptations to extremely low specific growth, transcriptome changes were analysed. These revealed that cellular responses to near-zero growth conditions share several similarities with those of cells during the stationary phase of batch growth. However, fundamental differences between these two non-growing states are apparent by their high viability and absence of stationary phase mutagenesis under near-zero growth conditions. © 2014 Society for Applied Microbiology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.