Mapping movement of bacterial crowds to understand mutant cell behaviour
Crowds do interesting things – birds flock, teams surge, cells form patterns in embryos. Grouping together to face a challenge ensures at least some will succeed or survive. But how does the behaviour of individuals contribute to group dynamics, the emergent behaviour? These white-coloured swirls are mounds of Myxococcus xanthus bacteria which have huddled together under stress. Different coloured lines follow each individual bacterium on its journey to the safety of a larger community. Researchers used mathematical models to simulate how bacteria with certain mutated genes compensate for what they lack – speed, for example – with other traits, such as less erratic movement. Rather than simply mimicking the rest of the community, these individuals’ characteristics make crowds more robust and adaptable. Similar modelling approaches might help to investigate how individual cancer cells break away from a tumorous crowd during metastasis – as a step towards blocking this rogue behaviour.
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