Although exponential growth of Bacillus subtilis 168 in a phosphate-limited medium halted with the exhaustion of inorganic phosphate, the bacteria continued to grow at a slower rate for a further 3 to 4 h at 37 degrees C. This postexponential growth in the absence of an exogenous phosphate supply was accompanied by a loss of teichoic acid from the cell walls of the bacteria. Quantitative analysis of walls and culture fluids showed that the phosphate loss from the walls could not be accounted for by an increase in phosphate-containing compounds in the medium, which implied that the cells were using their own wall teichoic acids to supply phosphate necessary for growth. Addition of exogenous teichoic acid to phosphate-starved cultures resulted in stimulation of growth and in the simultaneous disappearance of teichoic acid phosphate from the medium. It is proposed that teichoic acids, which can contain more than 30% of the total phosphorus of exponential-phase cells, can be used as a reserve phosphate source when the bacteria are starved for inorganic phosphate.
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