From individual cell motility to collective behaviors: Insights from a prokaryote, Myxococcus xanthus

Yong Zhang, Adrien Ducret, Joshua Shaevitz, Tâm Mignot

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


In bird flocks, fish schools, and many other living organisms, regrouping among individuals of the same kin is frequently an advantageous strategy to survive, forage, and face predators. However, these behaviors are costly because the community must develop regulatory mechanisms to coordinate and adapt its response to rapid environmental changes. In principle, these regulatory mechanisms, involving communication between individuals, may also apply to cellular systems which must respond collectively during multicellular development. Dissecting the mechanisms at work requires amenable experimental systems, for example, developing bacteria. Myxococcus xanthus, a Gram-negative delatproteobacterium, is able to coordinate its motility in space and time to swarm, predate, and grow millimeter-size spore-filled fruiting bodies. A thorough understanding of the regulatory mechanisms first requires studying how individual cells move across solid surfaces and control their direction of movement, which was recently boosted by new cell biology techniques. In this review, we describe current molecular knowledge of the motility mechanism and its regulation as a lead-in to discuss how multicellular cooperation may have emerged from several layers of regulation: chemotaxis, cell-cell signaling, and the extracellular matrix. We suggest that Myxococcus is a powerful system to investigate collective principles that may also be relevant to other cellular systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-164
Number of pages16
JournalFEMS Microbiology Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Medicine


  • Cell polarity
  • Chemotaxis
  • Cytoskeleton
  • Focal adhesion
  • Multicellular development


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