Cell behaviors underlying Myxococcus xanthus aggregate dispersal

Patrick Murphy, Jessica Comstock, Trosporsha Khan, Jiangguo Zhang, Roy Welch, Oleg A. Igoshin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The soil bacterium Myxococcus xanthus is a model organism with a set of diverse behaviors. These behaviors include the starvation-induced multicellular development program, in which cells move collectively to assemble multicellular aggregates. After initial aggregates have formed, some will disperse, with smaller aggregates having a higher chance of dispersal. Initial aggregation is driven by two changes in cell behavior: cells slow down inside of aggregates and bias their motion by reversing direction less frequently when moving toward aggregates. However, the cell behaviors that drive dispersal are unknown. Here, we use fluorescentmicroscopy to quantify changes in cell behavior after initial aggregates have formed. We observe that after initial aggregate formation, cells adjust the bias in reversal timings by initiating reversals more rapidly when approaching unstable aggregates. Using agent-based modeling, we then show dispersal is predominantly generated by this change in bias, which is strong enough to overcome slowdown inside aggregates. Notably, the change in reversal bias is correlated with the nearest aggregate size, connecting cellular activity to previously observed correlations between aggregate size and fate. To determine if this connection is consistent across strains, we analyze a second M. xanthus strain with reduced levels of dispersal. We findthat far fewer cells near smaller aggregates modifiedtheir bias. This implies that aggregate dispersal is under genetic control, providing a foundation for further investigations into the role it plays in the life cycle of M. xanthus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2023


  • bacterial development
  • biofilms,collective behavior
  • myxobacteria

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Computer Science Applications


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