Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh is known as one of the greatest post-impressionists to ever live; most famous for his ingenious use of complementary colors to create the eye catching and emotional masterpieces loved globally.
Researchers were recently reminded of his legacy by a type of bacteria called Myxococcus xanthus, which created their own take on the famous ‘Starry Night.’
Why do they create this pattern?
Recent images from a study published in mSystems of M.xanthus show how they cluster in swirls. The reason the predatory species grows in this way is to create cooperative swarms. This technique allows the sharing of resources and the ability to devastate their prey. The research group from the University of Wyoming aimed to find the specific molecular mechanisms behind this ability.
Their multicolored nature is due to some genetic editing of the bacterial genomes. Scientists created this work of art by adding luminescent proteins into their cells. The purpose of this was to be able to distinguish between the mutant and non-mutant bacteria strains, consequently allowing the scientists to track their behavior.
TraA and TraB
There are two expressed proteins thought to be behind this phenomenon: TraA and TraB. These key players allow microbes to recognize and bond with each other. To test out exactly how these two influence the process though, the group overexpressed them in one mutant strain and observed how the behavior changed.
The overexpressed TraAB strains were found to stay together for a longer period of time, and were unable to return back to an individual status. Therefore, the team thinks the proteins are in charge of determining the strength of the group’s cooperation.
Why is this important?
This study of social bacteria displayed “behaviors that also exhibit artistic beauty,” stated study co-author Daniel Wall. The clever and efficient way these bacteria cooperate is extremely impressive, with us humans having something to learn from these little organisms!
Understanding group behavior of bacteria is incredibly applicable to many areas of science. Since our microbiome is reliant on healthily functioning bacteria, understanding how they work is very important.
Source study: mSystems – Emergent Myxobacterial Behaviors Arise from Reversal Suppression Induced by Kin Contacts