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.
Myxococcus xanthus is a common soil bacterium with an intricate multicellular lifestyle that continues to challenge the way in which we conceptualize the capabilities of prokaryotic organisms. M. xanthus is the preferred laboratory representative from the Myxobacteria, a family of organisms distinguished by their ability to form highly structured biofilms that include tentacle-like packs of surface-gliding cell groups, synchronized rippling waves of oscillating cells and massive spore-filled aggregates that protrude up from the substratum to form fruiting bodies. But most of the Myxobacteria are also predators that thrive on the degradation of macromolecules released through the lysis of other microbial cells. The aim of this review is to examine our understanding of the predatory life cycle of M. xanthus. We will examine the multicellular structures formed during contact with prey, and the molecular mechanisms utilized by M. xanthus to detect and destroy prey cells. We will also examine our understanding of microbial predator-prey relationships and the prospects for how bacterial predation mechanisms can be exploited to generate new anti-microbial technologies.
antibiotics; multi-drug resistance; predation; chemotaxis; predataxis
The formation of spore-filled fruiting bodies by myxobacteria is a fascinating case of multicellular self-organization by bacteria. The organization of Myxococcus xanthus into fruiting bodies has long been studied not only as an important example of collective motion of bacteria, but also as a simplified model for developmental morphogenesis. Sporulation within the nascent fruiting body requires signaling between moving cells in order that the rod-shaped self-propelled cells differentiate into spores at the appropriate time. Probing the three-dimensional structure of myxobacteria fruiting bodies has previously presented a challenge due to limitations of different imaging methods. A new technique using Infrared Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) revealed previously unknown details of the internal structure of M. xanthus fruiting bodies consisting of interconnected pockets of relative high and low spore density regions. To make sense of the experimentally observed structure, modeling and computer simulations were used to test a hypothesized mechanism that could produce high-density pockets of spores. The mechanism consists of self-propelled cells aligning with each other and signaling by end-to-end contact to coordinate the process of differentiation resulting in a pattern of clusters observed in the experiment. The integration of novel OCT experimental techniques with computational simulations can provide new insight into the mechanisms that can give rise to the pattern formation seen in other biological systems such as dictyostelids, social amoeba known to form multicellular aggregates observed as slugs under starvation conditions.
Understanding bacteria self-organization is an active area of research with broad implications in both microbiology and developmental biology. Myxococcus xanthus undergoes multicellular aggregation and differentiation under starvation and is widely used as a model organism for studying bacteria self-organization. In this paper, we present the findings of an innovative non-invasive experimental technique that reveals a heterogeneous structure of the fruiting body not seen in earlier studies. Insight into the biological mechanism for these observed patterns is gained by integrating experiments with biologically relevant computational simulations. The simulations show that a novel mechanism requiring cell alignment, signaling and steric interactions can explain the pockets of spore clusters observed experimentally in the fruiting bodies of M. xanthus.
Myxococcus xanthus is a predatory bacterium that exhibits complex social behavior. The most pronounced behavior is the aggregation of cells into raised fruiting body structures in which cells differentiate into stress-resistant spores. In the laboratory, monocultures of M. xanthus at a very high density will reproducibly induce hundreds of randomly localized fruiting bodies when exposed to low nutrient availability and a solid surface. In this report, we analyze how M. xanthus fruiting body development proceeds in a coculture with suitable prey. Our analysis indicates that when prey bacteria are provided as a nutrient source, fruiting body aggregation is more organized, such that fruiting bodies form specifically after a step-down or loss of prey availability, whereas a step-up in prey availability inhibits fruiting body formation. This localization of aggregates occurs independently of the basal nutrient levels tested, indicating that starvation is not required for this process. Analysis of early developmental signaling relA and asgD mutants indicates that they are capable of forming fruiting body aggregates in the presence of prey, demonstrating that the stringent response and A-signal production are surprisingly not required for the initiation of fruiting behavior. However, these strains are still defective in differentiating to spores. We conclude that fruiting body formation does not occur exclusively in response to starvation and propose an alternative model in which multicellular development is driven by the interactions between M. xanthus cells and their cognate prey.
Myxococcus xanthus, a Gram-negative soil bacterium, undergoes multicellular development when nutrients become limiting. Aggregation, which is part of the developmental process, requires the surface motility of this organism. One component of M. xanthus motility, the social (S) gliding motility, enables the movement of cells in close physical proximity. Previous studies demonstrated that the cell-surface associated exopolysaccharide (EPS) is essential for S motility and the Dif proteins form a chemotaxis-like pathway that regulates EPS production in M. xanthus. DifA, a homologue of methyl-accepting chemotaxis proteins (MCPs) in the Dif system, is required for EPS production, S motility and development. In this study, a spontaneous extragenic suppressor of a difA deletion was isolated in order to identify additional regulators of EPS production. The suppressor mutation was found to be a single base-pair insertion in cheW7 at the che7 chemotaxis gene cluster. Further examination indicated that mutations in cheW7 may lead to the interaction of Mcp7 with DifC (CheW-like) and DifE (CheA-like) to reconstruct a functional pathway to regulate EPS production in the absence of DifA. In addition, the cheW7 mutation was found to partially suppress a pilA mutation in EPS production in a difA+ background. Further deletion of difA from the pilA cheW7 double mutant resulted in a triple mutant that produced wild-type levels of EPS, implying that DifA (MCP-like) and Mcp7 compete for interactions with DifC and DifE in the modulation of EPS production.
Myxococcus xanthus, a Gram-negative soil bacterium, undergoes multicellular development when nutrients become limiting. Aggregation, which is part of the developmental process, requires the surface motility of this organism. One component of M. xanthus motility, the social (S) gliding motility, enables the movement of cells in close physical proximity. Previous studies demonstrated that the cell surface-associated exopolysaccharide (EPS) is essential for S motility and that the Dif proteins form a chemotaxis-like pathway that regulates EPS production in M. xanthus. DifA, a homologue of methyl-accepting chemotaxis proteins (MCPs) in the Dif system, is required for EPS production, S motility and development. In this study, a spontaneous extragenic suppressor of a difA deletion was isolated in order to identify additional regulators of EPS production. The suppressor mutation was found to be a single base pair insertion in cheW7 at the che7 chemotaxis gene cluster. Further examination indicated that mutations in cheW7 may lead to the interaction of Mcp7 with DifC (CheW-like) and DifE (CheA-like) to reconstruct a functional pathway to regulate EPS production in the absence of DifA. In addition, the cheW7 mutation was found to partially suppress a pilA mutation in EPS production in a difA+ background. Further deletion of difA from the pilA cheW7 double mutant resulted in a triple mutant that produced wild-type levels of EPS, implying that DifA (MCP-like) and Mcp7 compete for interactions with DifC and DifE in the modulation of EPS production.
When starved, Myxococcus xanthus cells assemble themselves into aggregates of about 105 cells that grow into complex structures called fruiting bodies, where they later sporulate. Here we present new observations on the velocities of the cells, their orientations, and reversal rates during the early stages of fruiting body formation. Most strikingly, we find that during aggregation, cell velocities slow dramatically and cells orient themselves in parallel inside the aggregates, while later cell orientations are circumferential to the periphery. The slowing of cell velocity, rather than changes in reversal frequency, can account for the accumulation of cells into aggregates. These observations are mimicked by a continuous agent-based computational model that reproduces the early stages of fruiting body formation. We also show, both experimentally and computationally, how changes in reversal frequency controlled by the Frz system mutants affect the shape of these early fruiting bodies.
Myxobacteria are soil bacteria whose unusually social behavior distinguishes them from other groups of procaryotes. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of their social behavior occurs during development, when tens of thousands of cells aggregate and form a colorful fruiting body. Inside the fruiting body the vegetative cells convert into dormant, resistant myxospores. However, myxobacterial social behavior is not restricted to the developmental cycle, and three other social behaviors have been described. Vegetative cells have a multigene social motility system in which cell-cell contact is essential for gliding in multicellular swarms. Cell growth on protein is cooperative in that the growth rate increases with the cell density. Rippling is a periodic behavior in which the cells align themselves in ridges and move in waves. These social behaviors indicate that myxobacterial colonies are not merely collections of individual cells but are societies in which cell behavior is synchronized by cell-cell interactions. The molecular basis of these social behaviors is becoming clear through the use of a combination of behavioral, biochemical, and genetic experimental approaches.
Swarming, a collective motion of many thousands of cells, produces colonies that rapidly spread over surfaces. In this paper, we introduce a cell-based model to study how interactions between neighboring cells facilitate swarming. We chose to study Myxococcus xanthus, a species of myxobacteria, because it swarms rapidly and has well-defined cell–cell interactions mediated by type IV pili and by slime trails. The aim of this paper is to test whether the cell contact interactions, which are inherent in pili-based S motility and slime-based A motility, are sufficient to explain the observed expansion of wild-type swarms. The simulations yield a constant rate of swarm expansion, which has been observed experimentally. Also, the model is able to quantify the contributions of S motility and A motility to swarming. Some pathogenic bacteria spread over infected tissue by swarming. The model described here may shed some light on their colonization process.
Many bacteria are able to spread rapidly over the surface using a strategy called swarming. When the cells cover a surface at high density and compete with each other for nutrients, swarming permits them to maintain rapid growth at the swarm edge. Swarming with flagella has been investigated for many years, and much has been learned about its regulation. Nevertheless, its choreography, which is somewhat related to the counterflow of pedestrians on a city sidewalk, has remained elusive. It is the bacterial equivalent of dancing toward the exit in a crowd of moving bodies that usually are in close contact. Myxococcus xanthus expands its swarms at 1.6 μm/min, about a third the speed of individual cells gliding over the same surface. Each cell has pilus engines at its front end and slime secretion engines at its rear. Using the known mechanics of these engines and the ways they are coordinated, we have developed a cell-based model to study the role of social interactions in bacterial swarming. The model is able to quantify the contributions of individual motility engines to swarming. It also shows that microscopic social interactions help to form the ordered collective motion observed in swarms.
Myxococcus xanthus is widely used as a model system for studying gliding motility, multicellular development, and cellular differentiation. Moreover, M. xanthus is a rich source of novel secondary metabolites. The analysis of these processes has been hampered by the limited set of tools for inducible gene expression. Here we report the construction of a set of plasmid vectors to allow copper-inducible gene expression in M. xanthus. Analysis of the effect of copper on strain DK1622 revealed that copper concentrations of up to 500 μM during growth and 60 μM during development do not affect physiological processes such as cell viability, motility, or aggregation into fruiting bodies. Of the copper-responsive promoters in M. xanthus reported so far, the multicopper oxidase cuoA promoter was used to construct expression vectors, because no basal expression is observed in the absence of copper and induction linearly depends on the copper concentration in the culture medium. Four different plasmid vectors have been constructed, with different marker selection genes and sites of integration in the M. xanthus chromosome. The vectors have been tested and gene expression quantified using the lacZ gene. Moreover, we demonstrate the functional complementation of the motility defect caused by lack of PilB by the copper-induced expression of the pilB gene. These versatile vectors are likely to deepen our understanding of the biology of M. xanthus and may also have biotechnological applications.
Dsp mutants of Myxococcus xanthus have a complex phenotype with abnormal cell cohesion, social motility, and development. All three defects are the result of a single mutation in the dsp locus, a region of DNA about 14 kilobases long. Cohesion appears to play a central role in social motility, since nonsocial mutants exhibit weak agglutination or, in the case of Dsp cells, no agglutination (L. J. Shimkets, J. Bacteriol. 166:837-841, 1986). However, Dsp cells can be agglutinated by cohesive strains of M. xanthus. This provided the opportunity to examine the role of cohesion during development by comparing the developmental phenotype of Dsp cells with that of Dsp cells mixed with cohesive strains. Dsp mutants were unable to complete any of the developmental behaviors: aggregation, fruiting body formation, developmental autolysis, and sporulation. Contact with cohesive strains seemed to restore some developmental characteristics to the Dsp cells. When allowed to develop with wild-type cells, Dsp cells accumulated in fruiting bodies and underwent developmental autolysis, but did not form a significant portion of the spore population. Igl mutants, which may be similar to the previously described frizzy mutants, are cohesive strains that are unable to form fruiting bodies. Mixing Igl cells with Dsp cells under developmental conditions resulted in fruiting body formation, although the Dsp cells were unable to form significant levels of myxospores. In spite of their inability to sporulate under developmental conditions, Dsp mutants did not appear to be defective in the sporulation process. In fact, they formed normal levels of myxospores in response to the chemical inducer glycerol.
An agglutination assay was used to study cell cohesion in the myxobacterium Myxococcus xanthus. Vegetative cells agglutinated in the presence of the divalent cations Mg2+ and Ca2+. Agglutination was blocked by energy poisons that inhibit electron transport, uncouple oxidative phosphorylation, or inhibit the membrane-bound ATPase. However, energy was not required for the maintenance of cells in the multicellular aggregate. Cyanide, a strong inhibitor of agglutination, did not cause cells to dissociate from the aggregate even when shear forces were applied. While gliding motility was not necessary for agglutination, some gliding mutants exhibited aberrant agglutination that was generally correlated with cell behavior. Cells with an intact social motility system were cohesive and glided in large multicellular swarms. Cells with a mutation in their social motility system were 5- to 10-fold less cohesive and tended to glide as single cells. One group of social motility mutants, known as Dsp, did not agglutinate.
Myxococcus xanthus is a gram-negative bacterium capable of complex developmental processes involving vegetative swarming and fruiting body formation. Social (S-) gliding motility, one of the two motility systems employed by M. xanthus, requires at least two cell surface structures: type IV pili (TFP) and extracellular polysaccharides (EPS). Extended TFP which are composed of thousands of copies of PilA retract upon binding to EPS and thereby pull the cell forward. TFP also act as external sensor to regulate EPS production. In this study, we generated a random PilA mutant library and identified one derivative, SW1066, which completely failed to undergo developmental processes. Detailed characterization revealed that SW1066 produced very little EPS but wild-type amounts of PilA. These mutated PilA subunits, however, are unable to assemble into functional TFP despite their ability to localize to the membrane. By preventing the mutated PilA of SW1066 to translocate from the cytoplasm to the membrane, fruiting body formation and EPS production was restored to the levels observed in mutant strains lacking PilA. This apparent connection between PilA membrane accumulation and reduction in surface EPS implies that specific cellular PilA localization are required to maintain the EPS level necessary to sustain normal S-motilityin M. xanthus.
Myxococcus xanthus; type four pili; PilA; extracellular polysaccharide
Bacterial sporulation in Gram-positive bacteria results in small acid-soluble proteins called SASPs that bind to DNA and prevent the damaging effects of UV radiation. Orthologs of Bacillus subtilis genes encoding SASPs can be found in many sporulating and nonsporulating bacteria, but they are noticeably absent from spore-forming, Gram-negative Myxococcus xanthus. This is despite the fact that M. xanthus can form UV-resistant spores. Here we report evidence that M. xanthus produces its own unique group of low-molecular-weight, acid-soluble proteins that facilitate UV resistance in spores. These M. xanthus-specific SASPs vary depending upon whether spore formation is induced by starvation inside cell aggregations of fruiting bodies or is induced artificially by glycerol induction. Molecular predictions indicate that M. xanthus SASPs may have some association with the cell walls of M. xanthus spores, which may signify a different mechanism of UV protection than that seen in Gram-positive spores.
Upon nutrient limitation cells of the swarming soil bacterium Myxococcus xanthus form a multicellular fruiting body in which a fraction of the cells develop into myxospores. Spore development includes the transition from a rod-shaped vegetative cell to a spherical myxospore and so is expected to be accompanied by changes in the bacterial cell envelope. Peptidoglycan is the shape-determining structure in the cell envelope of most bacteria, including myxobacteria. We analyzed the composition of peptidoglycan isolated from M. xanthus. While the basic structural elements of peptidoglycan in myxobacteria were identical to those in other gram-negative bacteria, the peptidoglycan of M. xanthus had unique structural features. meso- or ll-diaminopimelic acid was present in the stem peptides, and a new modification of N-acetylmuramic acid was detected in a fraction of the muropeptides. Peptidoglycan formed a continuous, bag-shaped sacculus in vegetative cells. The sacculus was degraded during the transition from vegetative cells to glycerol-induced myxospores. The spherical, bag-shaped coats isolated from glycerol-induced spores contained no detectable muropeptides, but they contained small amounts of N-acetylmuramic acid and meso-diaminopimelic acid.
Summary: In bacteria, motility is important for a wide variety of biological functions such as virulence, fruiting body formation, and biofilm formation. While most bacteria move by using specialized appendages, usually external or periplasmic flagella, some bacteria use other mechanisms for their movements that are less well characterized. These mechanisms do not always exhibit obvious motility structures. Myxococcus xanthus is a motile bacterium that does not produce flagella but glides slowly over solid surfaces. How M. xanthus moves has remained a puzzle that has challenged microbiologists for over 50 years. Fortunately, recent advances in the analysis of motility mutants, bioinformatics, and protein localization have revealed likely mechanisms for the two M. xanthus motility systems. These results are summarized in this review.
Myxococcus xanthus is a bacterium that moves by gliding motility and exhibits multicellular development (fruiting body formation). The frizzy (frz) mutants aggregate aberrantly and therefore fail to form fruiting bodies. Individual frz cells cannot control the frequency at which they reverse direction while gliding. Previously, FrzCD was shown to exhibit significant sequence similarity to the enteric methyl-accepting chemotaxis proteins. In this report, we show that FrzCD is modified by methylation and that frzF encodes the methyltransferase. We also identify a new gene, frzG, whose predicted product is homologous to that of the cheB (methylesterase) gene from Escherichia coli. Thus, although M. xanthus is unflagellated, it appears to have a sensory transduction system which is similar in many of its components to those found in flagellated bacteria.
Rhythmically advancing waves of cells, called ripples, arise spontaneously during the aggregation of Myxococcus xanthus into fruiting bodies. Extracts prepared by washing rippling cells contain a substance that will induce quiescent cells to ripple. Three lines of evidence indicate that murein (peptidoglycan) is the ripple-inducing substance in the extracts. First, ripple-inducing activity is associated with the cell envelope of sonically disrupted M. xanthus cells. Second, whole cells, cell extracts, or purified murein from a variety of different bacteria are capable of inducing ripples. In contrast, extracts prepared from Methanobacterium spp. which contain pseudomurein instead of typical bacterial murein fail to induce ripples. Third, four components of M. xanthus murein, N-acetylglucosamine, N-acetylmuramic acid, diaminopimelate, and D-alanine, are able to induce ripples. Ripples produced by aggregating cells have a wavelength of 45 micrometers and a maximum velocity of 2 micrometers/min. Both of the multigene systems that control gliding motility appear to be required for rippling, and all known mutations at the spoC locus eliminate both rippling and sporulation.
Many bacteria exhibit multicellular behaviour, with individuals within a colony coordinating their actions for communal benefit. One example of complex multicellular phenotypes is myxobacterial fruiting body formation, where thousands of cells aggregate into large three-dimensional structures, within which sporulation occurs. Here we describe a novel theoretical model, which uses Monte Carlo dynamics to simulate and explain multicellular development. The model captures multiple behaviours observed during fruiting, including the spontaneous formation of aggregation centres and the formation and dissolution of fruiting bodies. We show that a small number of physical properties in the model is sufficient to explain the most frequently documented population-level behaviours observed during development in Myxococcus xanthus.
Understanding how relatively simple, single cell bacteria can communicate and coordinate their actions is important for explaining how complex multicellular behaviour can emerge without a central controller. Myxobacteria are particularly interesting in this respect because cells undergo multiple phases of coordinated behaviour during their life-cycle. One of the most fascinating and complex phases is the formation of fruiting bodies—large multicellular aggregates of cells formed in response to starvation. In this article we use evidence from the latest experimental data to construct a computational model explaining how cells can form fruiting bodies. Both in our model and in nature, cells move together in dense swarms, which collide to form aggregation centres. In particular, we show that it is possible for aggregates to form spontaneously where previous models require artificially induced aggregates to start the fruiting process.
The phenomenon of phase variation between yellow and tan forms of Myxococcus xanthus has been recognized for several decades, but it is not known what role this variation may play in the ecology of myxobacteria. We confirm an earlier report that tan variants are disproportionately more numerous in the resulting spore population of a M. xanthus fruiting body than the tan vegetative cells that contributed to fruiting body formation. However, we found that tan cells may not require yellow cells for fruiting body formation or starvation-induced sporulation of tan cells. Here we report three differences between the yellow and tan variants that may play important roles in the soil ecology of M. xanthus. Specifically, the yellow variant is more capable of forming biofilms, is more sensitive to lysozyme, and is more resistant to ingestion by bacteriophagous nematodes. We also show that the myxobacterial fruiting body is more resistant to predation by worms than are dispersed M. xanthus cells.
We propose that surface tension is the driving force for the gliding motility of Myxococcus xanthus. Our model requires that the cell be able to excrete surfactant in a polar and reversible fashion. We present calculations that (i) estimate the surface tension difference across a cell necessary to move the cell at the observed rate, which is less than 10(-5) dyn/cm, an extremely small value; (ii) estimate the rate of surfactant excretion necessary to produce the required surface tension difference, a rate that we conclude to be metabolically reasonable; (iii) predict the behavior of cells moving in close apposition to each other, and show that the model is consistent with observed behavior; and (iv) predict the behavior of cells moving in dense swarms. In an accompanying paper we present experimental evidence to support the surface tension model.
Type IV pili (TFP) and exopolysaccharides (EPS) are important components for social behaviors in Myxococcus xanthus, including gliding motility and fruiting body formation. Although specific interactions between TFP and EPS have been proposed, direct observations of these interactions under native condition have not yet been made. In this study, we found that a truncated PilA protein (PilACt) which only contains the C-terminal domain (amino acids 32-208) is sufficient for EPS binding in vitro. Furthermore, an enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) and PilACt fusion protein was constructed and used to label the native EPS in M. xanthus. Under confocal laser scanning microscope, the eGFP-PilACt-bound fruiting bodies, trail structures and biofilms exhibited similar patterns as the wheat germ agglutinin lectin (WGA)-labeled EPS structures. This study showed that eGFP-PilACt fusion protein was able to efficiently label the EPS of M. xanthus and for the first time provided evidence for the direct interaction between the PilA protein and EPS under native conditions.
Type IV Pilin; Exopolysaccharides; Biofilm; Fruiting body; Confocal laser scanning microscopy; eGFP
Myxococcus xanthus exhibits many tactic movements that require the frz signal transduction system, such as colony swarming and cellular aggregation during fruiting body formation. Previously we demonstrated that the Frz proteins control the chemotactic movements of M. xanthus (W. Shi, T. Köhler, and D. R. Zusman, Mol. Microbiol. 9:601-611, 1993). However it was unclear from that study how chemotaxis might be achieved at the cellular level. In this study, we showed that M. xanthus cells not only modulate the reversal frequency of cell movement in response to repellent stimuli but also exhibit sensory adaptation in response to the continuous presence of nonsaturating repellent stimuli. The sensory adaptation behavior requires FrzF (a putative methyltransferase) and is correlated with the methylation-demethylation of FrzCD, a methyl-accepting chemotaxis protein. These results indicate that negative chemotaxis in M. xanthus is achieved by chemokinesis plus sensory adaptation in a manner analogous to that of the free-swimming enteric bacteria.
The soil bacterium Myxococcus xanthus is a model for the study of cooperative microbial behaviours such as social motility and fruiting body formation. Several M. xanthus developmental traits that are frequently quantified for laboratory strains are likely to be significant components of fitness in natural populations, yet little is known about the degree such traits vary in the wild and may therefore be subject to natural selection. Here we have tested whether several key M. xanthus developmental life-history traits have diverged significantly among strains both from globally distant origins and from within a sympatric, cm-scale population. The isolates examined here were found to vary greatly, in a heritable manner, in their rate of developmental aggregation and in both their rate and efficiency of spore production. Isolates also varied in the nutrient concentration threshold triggering spore formation and in the heat resistance of spores. The extensive diversity in developmental phenotypes documented here opens questions regarding the relative roles of selection and genetic drift in shaping the diversity of local soil populations with respect to these developmental traits. It also raises the question whether fitness in the wild is largely determined by traits that are expressed independently of social context or by behaviors that are expressed only in genetically heterogeneous social groups.
social evolution; intra-specific variation; soil bacteria; fruiting bodies; multicellular development
It is characteristic of myxobacteria to produce large amounts of extracellular material. This report demonstrates that this material in Myxococcus xanthus is fibrillar and describes the structure and chemical composition of the fibrils. The extracellular matrix fibrils are the mediators of cell-cell cohesion in M. xanthus. As such, the fibrils play an important role in the cell-cell interactions that form the basis for the social and developmental lifestyle of this organism. The fibrils are composed of protein and carbohydrate in a 1.0:1.2 ratio. Combined, the two fractions accounted for greater than 85% of the mass of isolated fibrils, and the fibrils were found to compose up to 10% of the dry weight of cells grown at high density on a solid surface. The polysaccharide portion of the fibrils was shown to be composed of five different monosaccharides: galactose, glucosamine, glucose, rhamnose, and xylose. Glucosamine, one of the component monosaccharides of the fibrils and a known morphogen for M. xanthus, inhibited cohesion to a level near that of Congo red (the positive control for cohesion inhibition). Glucose and xylose also inhibited cohesion but less than did glucosamine. Analysis of the morphology of the fibrils, the periodicities within the distribution of fibril diameters observed by field emission scanning electron microscopy, and the observation of fibrils on hydrated cells strongly suggested that the extracellular matrix of M. xanthus was indeed arranged as fibrils. Furthermore, results suggested that the fibrils were constructed as carbohydrate structures with associated proteins.