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Cite Details

Yilin Wu, Dale Kaiser, Yi Jiang and Mark Alber, "Periodic Reversal of Direction Allows Myxobacteria to Swarm", in press PNAS , 2009


Many bacteria can rapidly traverse surfaces from which they are extracting nutrient for growth. They generate flat, spreading colonies, called swarms because they resemble swarms of insects. We seek to understand how members of any dense swarm spread efficiently while being able to perceive and interfere minimally with the motion of others'. To this end we investigate swarms of the myxobacterium, Myxococcus xanthus. Individual M. xanthus cells are elongated; they always move in the direction of their long axis; and they are in constant motion, repeatedly touching each other. Remarkably, they regularly reverse their gliding directions. We have constructed a detailed cell- and behavior-based computational model of M. xanthus swarming that allows the organization of cells to be computed. Using the model, w are able to show that reversals of gliding direction are essential for swarming and that reversals increase the outflow of cells across the edge of the swarm. Cells at the swarm edge gain maximum exposure to nutrient and oxygen. We also find that the reversal period predicted to maximize the outflow of cells is the same (within the errors of measurement) as the period observed in experiments with normal M. xanthus cells. This coincidence suggests that the circuit regulating reversals evolved to its current sensitivity under selection for growth achieved by swarming. Finally, we observe that, with time, reversals increase the cell alignment, and generate clusters of parallel cells. This could be how swarming bacteria perceive distant neighbors.

BibTeX Entry

author = {Yilin Wu and Dale Kaiser and Yi Jiang and Mark Alber},
title = {Periodic Reversal of Direction Allows Myxobacteria to Swarm},
year = {2009},
urlpdf = {http://math.lanl.gov/~yi/Papers/Wu_reversal_PNAS_2009.pdf},
note = {in press PNAS }