Directional reversals enable Myxococcus xanthus cells to produce collective one-dimensional streams during fruiting-body formation

Shashi Thutupalli, Mingzhai Sun, Filiz Bunyak, Kannappan Palaniappan, Joshua W. Shaevitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


The formation of a collectively moving group benefits individuals within a population in a variety of ways. The surface-dwelling bacterium Myxococcus xanthus forms dynamic collective groups both to feed on prey and to aggregate during times of starvation. The latter behaviour, termed fruiting-body formation, involves a complex, coordinated series of density changes that ultimately lead to three-dimensional aggregates comprising hundreds of thousands of cells and spores. How a loose, two-dimensional sheet of motile cells produces a fixed aggregate has remained a mystery as current models of aggregation are either inconsistent with experimental data or ultimately predict unstable structures that do not remain fixed in space. Here, we use high-resolution microscopy and computer vision software to spatiotemporally track the motion of thousands of individuals during the initial stages of fruiting-body formation. We find that cells undergo a phase transition from exploratory flocking, in which unstable cell groups move rapidly and coherently over long distances, to a reversal-mediated localization into one-dimensional growing streams that are inherently stable in space. These observations identify a new phase of active collective behaviour and answer a long-standing open question in Myxococcus development by describing how motile cell groups can remain statistically fixed in a spatial location.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20150049
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number109
StatePublished - Aug 6 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Bioengineering
  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Biotechnology
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biomaterials


  • Cell tracking
  • Collective behaviour
  • Fruiting-body formation
  • Myxococcus xanthus
  • Phase transition


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