Profiling Myxococcus xanthus Swarming Phenotypes through Mutation and Environmental Variation

Linnea J. Ritchie, Erin R. Curtis, Kimberly A. Murphy, Roy D. Welch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Myxococcus xanthus is a bacterium that lives on surfaces as a predatory biofilm called a swarm. As a growing swarm feeds on prey and expands, it displays dynamic multicellular patterns such as traveling waves called ripples and branching protrusions called flares. The rate at which a swarm expands across a surface, and the emergence of the coexisting patterns, are all controlled through coordinated cell movement. M. xanthus cells move using two motility systems known as adventurous (A) and social (S). Both are involved in swarm expansion and pattern formation. In this study, we describe a set of M. xanthus swarming genotype-to-phenotype associations that include both genetic and environmental perturbations. We identified new features of the swarming phenotype, recorded and measured swarm expansion using time-lapse microscopy, and compared the impact of mutations on different surfaces. These observations and analyses have increased our ability to discriminate between swarming phenotypes and provided context that allows us to identify some phenotypes as improbable outliers within the M. xanthus swarming phenome. IMPORTANCE Myxococcus xanthus grows on surfaces as a predatory biofilm called a swarm. In nature, a feeding swarm expands by moving over and consuming prey bacteria. In the laboratory, a swarm is created by spotting cell suspension onto nutrient agar in lieu of prey. The suspended cells quickly settle on the surface as the liquid is absorbed into the agar, and the new swarm then expands radially. An assay that measures the expansion rate of a swarm of mutant cells is the first, and sometimes only, measurement used to decide whether a particular mutation impacts swarm motility. We have broadened the scope of this assay by increasing the accuracy of measurements and introducing prey, resulting in new identifiable and quantifiable features that can be used to improve genotype-to-phenotype associations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00306-21
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Biofilm
  • Flares
  • Genotype
  • Microscopy
  • Motility
  • Myxococcus xanthus
  • Phenotype
  • Predation
  • Ripples
  • Swarm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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