All living cells employ an array of different mechanisms to help them survive changes in extra cellular osmotic pressure. The difference in the concentration of chemicals in a bacterium's cytoplasm and the external environment generates an osmotic pressure that inflates the cell. It is thought that the bacterium Escherichia coli use a number of interconnected systems to adapt to changes in external pressure, allowing them to maintain turgor and live in surroundings that range more than two-hundred-fold in external osmolality. Here, we use fluorescence imaging to make the first measurements of cell volume changes over time during hyperosmotic shock and subsequent adaptation on a single cell level in vivo with a time resolution on the order of seconds. We directly observe two previously unseen phases of the cytoplasmic water efflux upon hyperosmotic shock. Furthermore, we monitor cell volume changes during the post-shock recovery and observe a two-phase response that depends on the shock magnitude. The initial phase of recovery is fast, on the order of 15-20 min and shows little cell-to-cell variation. For large sucrose shocks, a secondary phase that lasts several hours adds to the recovery. We find that cells are able to recover fully from shocks as high as 1 Osmol/kg using existing systems, but that for larger shocks, protein synthesis is required for full recovery.
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