Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Insight into bacterial colony growth organisation and movement – clues to stopping infections

20 April 2022

Star Turn

Bacteria grow as an active matter system – a lively swarm where individual growth and movement guides the overall colony. Here researchers simulate what happens when Bacillus subtilis bacteria crowd into a tight space, finding the rod-shaped cells swarm inwards, joining up with other colonies into a star-shaped aster structure. Mimicking experiments with real-life colonies, the simulations suggest that forces around each cell’s rod-shaped structure cause them to ‘swirl’ in the same direction – many of these bacteria end up with a similar orientation (highlighted in similar colours). By tweaking their models, the team predict that such colonies may favour the development of longer bacteria that move through the colony more easily – perhaps towards food. Further studies into their patterns may give insight into how bacterial colonies adapt to different environments – and how stubborn bacterial infections and biofilms may be stopped in their tracks.

Written by John Ankers

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