Collective migration—the directed, coordinated motion of many self-propelled agents—is a fascinating emergent behavior exhibited by active matter with functional implications for biological systems. However, how migration can persist when a population is confronted with perturbations is poorly understood. Here, we address this gap in knowledge through studies of bacteria that migrate via directed motion, or chemotaxis, in response to a self-generated nutrient gradient. We find that bacterial populations autonomously smooth out large-scale perturbations in their overall morphology, enabling the cells to continue to migrate together. This smoothing process arises from spatial variations in the ability of cells to sense and respond to the local nutrient gradient—revealing a population-scale consequence of the manner in which individual cells transduce external signals. Altogether, our work provides insights to predict, and potentially control, the collective migration and morphology of cellular populations and diverse other forms of active matter.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)