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Desperate times call for desperate measures: benefits and costs of toxin–antitoxin systems
- Hõrak, Rita, Tamman, Hedvig
- Current genetics 2017 v.63 no.1 pp. 69-74
- loci, plasmids, stress response, toxins
- Toxin–antitoxin (TA) loci were first described as killing systems for plasmid maintenance. The surprisingly abundant presence of TA loci in bacterial chromosomes has stimulated an extensive research in the recent decade aimed to understand the biological importance of these potentially deadly systems. Accumulating evidence suggests that the evolutionary success of genomic TA systems could be explained by their ability to increase bacterial fitness under stress conditions. While TA systems remain quiescent under favorable growth conditions, the toxins can be activated in response to stress resulting in growth suppression and development of stress-tolerant dormant state. Yet, several studies suggest that the TA-mediated stress protection is costly and traded off against decreased fitness under normal growth conditions. Here, we give an overview of the fitness benefits of the chromosomal TA systems, and discuss the costs of TA-mediated stress protection.