Dynamics of Fruiting Body Morphogenesis

Dale Kaiser, Roy Welcht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Myxobacteria build their species-specific fruiting bodies by cell movement and then differentiate spores in specific places within that multicellular structure. New steps in the developmental aggregation of Myxococcus xanthus were discovered through a frame-by-frame analysis of a motion picture. The formation and fate of 18 aggregates were captured in the time-lapse movie. Still photographs of 600 other aggregates were also analyzed. M. xanthus has two engines that propel the gliding of its rod-shaped cells: slime-secreting jets at the rear and retractile pili at the front. The earliest aggregates are stationary masses of cells that look like three-dimensional traffic jams. We propose a model in which both engines stall as the cells' forward progress is blocked by other cells in the traffic jam. We also propose that these blockades are eventually circumvented by the cell's capacity to turn, which is facilitated by the push of slime secretion at the rear of each cell and by the flexibility of the myxobacterial cell wall. Turning by many cells would transform a traffic jam into an elliptical mound, in which the cells are streaming in closed orbits. Pairs of adjacent mounds are observed to coalesce into single larger mounds, probably reflecting the fusion of orbits in the adjacent mounds. Although fruiting bodies are relatively large structures that contain 105 cells, no long-range interactions between cells were evident. For aggregation, M. xanthus appears to use local interactions between its cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)919-927
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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