Bacteria Floc, but Do They Flock? Insights from Population Interaction Models of Quorum Sensing.

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TitleBacteria Floc, but Do They Flock? Insights from Population Interaction Models of Quorum Sensing.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsUeda, H, Stephens, K, Trivisa, K, Bentley, WE
Date Published2019 May 28

Quorum sensing (QS) enables coordinated, population-wide behavior. QS-active bacteria "communicate" their number density using autoinducers which they synthesize, collect, and interpret. Tangentially, chemotactic bacteria migrate, seeking out nutrients and other molecules. It has long been hypothesized that bacterial behaviors, such as chemotaxis, were the primordial progenitors of complex behaviors of higher-order organisms. Recently, QS was linked to chemotaxis, yet the notion that these behaviors can together contribute to higher-order behaviors has not been shown. Here, we mathematically link flocking behavior, commonly observed in fish and birds, to bacterial chemotaxis and QS by constructing a phenomenological model of population-scale QS-mediated phenomena. Specifically, we recast a previously developed mathematical model of flocking and found that simulated bacterial behaviors aligned well with well-known QS behaviors. This relatively simple system of ordinary differential equations affords analytical analysis of asymptotic behavior and describes cell position and velocity, QS-mediated protein expression, and the surrounding concentrations of an autoinducer. Further, heuristic explorations of the model revealed that the emergence of "migratory" subpopulations occurs only when chemotaxis is directly linked to QS. That is, behaviors were simulated when chemotaxis was coupled to QS and when not. When coupled, the bacterial flocking model predicts the formation of two distinct groups of cells migrating at different speeds in their journey toward an attractant. This is qualitatively similar to phenomena spotted in our chemotaxis experiments as well as in analogous work observed over 50 years ago. Our modeling efforts show how cell density can affect chemotaxis; they help to explain the roots of subgroup formation in bacterial populations. Our work also reinforces the notion that bacterial mechanisms are at times exhibited in higher-order organisms.

Alternate JournalMBio
PubMed ID31138754
PubMed Central IDPMC6538791
Grant ListR21 EB024102 / EB / NIBIB NIH HHS / United States