The Social Life of Small Spaces

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Science  02 Aug 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6145, pp. 437
DOI: 10.1126/science.341.6145.437-a

Bacteria have traditionally been considered as swarms of independent cells, but the notion of bacteria as members of populous and integrated communities is becoming more prevalent. For instance, the existence of diffusible signals that contribute to quorum sensing among groups of bacteria to coordinate their responses to the environment is now well established. Remis et al. have looked at how Myxococcus xanthus, a social bacterium present in soil, can communicate via direct contact mechanisms. Artifact-free preservation and electron microscopic 3D imaging of cell structures revealed the fine structure of individual bacteria and their membrane appendages, as well as cellular 3D biofilm organization. Lipid-based vesicle chains and membrane tubes were observed that increased in number in biofilms and could facilitate direct communication between linked bacteria. The idea that bacteria in a biofilm can intimately connect at the level of the periplasm suggests that biofilm communities can be viewed as a “superorganism” that transfers membrane proteins and other molecules between cells in order to coordinate group behavior.

Environ. Microbiol. 15, 10.1111/1462-2920.12187 (2013).

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