Quantifying aggregation dynamics during Myxococcus xanthus development

Haiyang Zhang, Stuart Angus, Michael Tran, Chunyan Xie, Oleg A. Igoshin, Roy D. Welch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Under starvation conditions, a swarm of Myxococcus xanthus cells will undergo development, a multicellular process culminating in the formation of many aggregates called fruiting bodies, each of which contains up to 100,000 spores. The mechanics of symmetry breaking and the self-organization of cells into fruiting bodies is an active area of research. Here we use microcinematography and automated image processing to quantify several transient features of developmental dynamics. An analysis of experimental data indicates that aggregation reaches its steady state in a highly nonmonotonic fashion. The number of aggregates rapidly peaks at a value 2- to 3-fold higher than the final value and then decreases before reaching a steady state. The time dependence of aggregate size is also nonmonotonic, but to a lesser extent: average aggregate size increases from the onset of aggregation to between 10 and 15 h and then gradually decreases thereafter. During this process, the distribution of aggregates transitions from a nearly random state early in development to a more ordered state later in development. A comparison of experimental results to a mathematical model based on the traffic jam hypothesis indicates that the model fails to reproduce these dynamic features of aggregation, even though it accurately describes its final outcome. The dynamic features of M. xanthus aggregation uncovered in this study impose severe constraints on its underlying mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5164-5170
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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