When starved, a swarm of millions of Myxococcus xanthus cells coordinate their movement from outward swarming to inward coalescence. The cells then execute a synchronous program of multicellular development, arranging themselves into dome shaped aggregates. Over the course of development, about half of the initial aggregates disappear, while others persist and mature into fruiting bodies. This work seeks to develop a quantitative model for aggregation that accurately simulates which will disappear and which will persist. We analyzed time-lapse movies of M. xanthus development, modeled aggregation using the equations that describe Ostwald ripening of droplets in thin liquid films, and predicted the disappearance and persistence of aggregates with an average accuracy of 85%. We then experimentally validated a prediction that is fundamental to this model by tracking individual fluorescent cells as they moved between aggregates and demonstrating that cell movement towards and away from aggregates correlates with aggregate disappearance. Describing development through this model may limit the number and type of molecular genetic signals needed to complete M. xanthus development, and it provides numerous additional testable predictions.
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