The significances of bacterial colony patterns

Bioessays 17 (7):597-607 (1995)
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Bacteria do many things as organized populations. We have recently learned much about the molecular basis of intercellular communication among prokaryotes. Colonies display bacterial capacities for multicellular coordination which can be useful in nature where bacteria predominantly grow as films, chains, mats and colonies. E. coli colonies are organized into differentiated non-clonal populations and undergo complex morphogenesis. Multicellularity regulates many aspects of bacterial physiology, including DNA rearrangement systems. In some bacterial species, colony development involves swarming (active migration of cell groups). Swarm colony development displays precise geometrical controls and periodic phenomena. Motile E. coli cells in semi-solid media form organized patterns due to chemotactic autoaggregation. On poor media, B. subtilis forms branched colonies using group motility and long-range chemical signalling. The significances of bacterial colony patterns thus reside in a deeper understanding of prokaryotic biology and evolution and in experimental systems for studying self-organization and morphogenesis.
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