Cells, whether prokaryotic or eukaryotic, eventually reproduce or die. For prokaryotes, the mechanism of reproduction is relatively simple, since there are no internal organelles. The process consists of three distinct but short phases: first, a growth phase in which the mass of the cell is increased, then the chromosomal replication phase, and finally the chromosomes are separated and the cells are physically split into two independent new cells. In bacteria, these are referred to as the B, C, and D periods, respectively. Initiation of the reproductive process appears to be primarily a function of cell size. The length of the overall cell cycle is determined by the B period, as the C and D periods have relatively fixed time constraints. The length of B is determined, in part, by environmental conditions and the gain in cell mass. Generation times for bacteria can vary from under half an hour to several days, although most bacterial cultures in laboratory settings and nutrient-rich media have generation times under a day.
DNA replication has already been covered in detail in Chapter 7. In bacteria, the process is initiated at the origin of replication by DnaA. However, in archaea, synchronous initiation of replication at multiple sites on the chromosome as well as recognition proteins homologous to eukaryotic ORC proteins suggests that there are similarities between archaebacterial and eukaryotic DNA replication to be explored.
Once the DNA is replicated and moved to opposite sides of the cell, the midcell septum forms to split the cell. At least 9 gene products are involved in this process including FtsZ, the prokaryotic tubulin homologue that forms a circumferential ring, FtsI, a peptidoglycan synthetase involved in septum formation, FtsL, whose function is unclear but is involved in ingrowth of the cell wall at the septum, and ZipA, which anchors the FtsZ ring. The ring contracts, pulling the membrane in with it. Eventually the membrane is pinched in enough to fuse and generate two completely separate cytoplasmic compartments. Other septation enzymes make cell wall components that ll in as the septum forms simultaneously with membrane/FtsZ contraction, and the cells separate.