The Alternative Patterns of Cell Division

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(a) Filamentous cyanobacteria, like those pictured here, replicate by fragmentation. (b) In this electron micrograph, cells of the bacterium Gemmata obscuriglobus are budding. The larger cell is the mother cell. Labels indicate the nucleoids (N) and the still-forming nuclear envelope (NE) of the daughter cell. (credit a: modification of work by CSIRO; credit b: modification of work by Kuo-Chang Lee, Rick I Webb and John A Fuerst)

OpenStax Microbiology

Binary fission is the most common pattern of cell division in prokaryotes, but it is not the only one. Other mechanisms usually involve asymmetrical division (as in budding) or production of spores in aerial filaments.

In some cyanobacteria, many nucleoids may accumulate in an enlarged round cell or along a filament, leading to the generation of many new cells at once. The new cells often split from the parent filament and float away in a process called fragmentation. Fragmentation is commonly observed in the Actinomycetes, a group of gram-positive, anaerobic bacteria commonly found in soil. Another curious example of cell division in prokaryotes, reminiscent of live birth in animals, is exhibited by the giant bacterium Epulopiscium. Several daughter cells grow fully in the parent cell, which eventually disintegrates, releasing the new cells to the environment. Other species may form a long narrow extension at one pole in a process called budding. The tip of the extension swells and forms a smaller cell, the bud that eventually detaches from the parent cell. Budding is most common in yeast, but it is also observed in prosthecate bacteria and some cyanobacteria.

The soil bacteria Actinomyces grow in long filaments divided by septa, similar to the mycelia seen in fungi, resulting in long cells with multiple nucleoids. Environmental signals, probably related to low nutrient availability, lead to the formation of aerial filaments. Within these aerial filaments, elongated cells divide simultaneously. The new cells, which contain a single nucleoid, develop into spores that give rise to new colonies.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: