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  1. Bacteria orchestrate collective behaviors and accomplish feats that would be unsuccessful if carried out by a lone bacterium. Processes undertaken by groups of bacteria include bioluminescence, biofilm formation, virulence factor production, and release of public goods that are shared by the community. Collective behaviors are controlled by signal transduction networks that integrate sensory information and transduce the information internally. Here, we discuss network features and mechanisms that, even in the face of dramatically changing environments, drive precise execution of bacterial group behaviors. We focus on representative quorum-sensing and second-messenger cyclic dimeric GMP (c-di-GMP) signal relays. We highlight ligand specificity versusmore »sensitivity, how small-molecule ligands drive discrimination of kin versus nonkin, signal integration mechanisms, single-input sensory systems versus coincidence detectors, and tuning of input-output dynamics via feedback regulation. We summarize how different features of signal transduction systems allow groups of bacteria to successfully interpret and collectively react to dynamically changing environments. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Microbiology, Volume 76 is September 2022. Please see for revised estimates.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available September 8, 2023
  2. Waldor, Matthew K. (Ed.)
    Bacterial biofilms are multicellular communities that collectively overcome environmental threats and clinical treatments. To regulate the biofilm lifecycle, bacteria commonly transduce sensory information via the second messenger molecule cyclic diguanylate (c-di-GMP). Using experimental and modeling approaches, we quantitatively capture c-di-GMP signal transmission via the bifunctional polyamine receptor NspS-MbaA, from ligand binding to output, in the pathogen Vibrio cholerae . Upon binding of norspermidine or spermidine, NspS-MbaA synthesizes or degrades c-di-GMP, respectively, which, in turn, drives alterations specifically to biofilm gene expression. A long-standing question is how output specificity is achieved via c-di-GMP, a diffusible molecule that regulates dozens of effectors.more »We show that NspS-MbaA signals locally to specific effectors, sensitizing V . cholerae to polyamines. However, local signaling is not required for specificity, as changes to global cytoplasmic c-di-GMP levels can selectively regulate biofilm genes. This work establishes the input–output dynamics underlying c-di-GMP signaling, which could be useful for developing bacterial manipulation strategies.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 18, 2023
  3. Abstract Efficient navigation through disordered, porous environments poses a major challenge for swimming microorganisms and future synthetic cargo-carriers. We perform Brownian dynamics simulations of active stiff polymers undergoing run-reverse dynamics, and so mimic bacterial swimming, in porous media. In accord with experiments of Escherichia coli , the polymer dynamics are characterized by trapping phases interrupted by directed hopping motion through the pores. Our findings show that the spreading of active agents in porous media can be optimized by tuning their run lengths, which we rationalize using a coarse-grained model. More significantly, we discover a geometric criterion for the optimal spreading,more »which emerges when their run lengths are comparable to the longest straight path available in the porous medium. Our criterion unifies results for porous media with disparate pore sizes and shapes and for run-and-tumble polymers. It thus provides a fundamental principle for optimal transport of active agents in densely-packed biological and environmental settings.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2022
  4. The spread of pathogenic bacteria in unsaturated porous media, where air and liquid coexist in pore spaces, is the major cause of soil contamination by pathogens, soft rot in plants, food spoilage, and many pulmonary diseases. However, visualization and fundamental understanding of bacterial transport in unsaturated porous media are currently lacking, limiting the ability to address the above contamination and disease related issues. Here, we demonstrate a previously unreported mechanism by which bacterial cells are transported in unsaturated porous media. We discover that surfactant-producing bacteria can generate flows along corners through surfactant production that changes the wettability of the solidmore »surface. The corner flow velocity is on the order of several mm/h, which is the same order of magnitude as bacterial swarming, one of the fastest known modes of bacterial surface translocation. We successfully predict the critical corner angle for bacterial corner flow to occur based on the biosurfactant-induced change in the contact angle of the bacterial solution on the solid surface. Furthermore, we demonstrate that bacteria can indeed spread by producing biosurfactants in a model soil, which consists of packed angular grains. In addition, we demonstrate that bacterial corner flow is controlled by quorum sensing, the cell-cell communication process that regulates biosurfactant production. Understanding this previously unappreciated bacterial transport mechanism will enable more accurate predictions of bacterial spreading in soil and other unsaturated porous media.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2022
  5. Bacterial cells can self-organize into structured communities at fluid-fluid interfaces. These soft, living materials composed of cells and extracellular matrix are called pellicles. Cells residing in pellicles garner group-level survival advantages such as increased antibiotic resistance. The dynamics of pellicle formation and, more generally, how complex morphologies arise from active biomaterials confined at interfaces are not well understood. Here, using Vibrio cholerae as our model organism, a custom-built adaptive stereo microscope, fluorescence imaging, mechanical theory, and simulations, we report a fractal wrinkling morphogenesis program that differs radically from the well-known coalescence of wrinkles into folds that occurs in passive thinmore »films at fluid-fluid interfaces. Four stages occur: growth of founding colonies, onset of primary wrinkles, development of secondary curved ridge instabilities, and finally the emergence of a cascade of finer structures with fractal-like scaling in wavelength. The time evolution of pellicle formation depends on the initial heterogeneity of the film microstructure. Changing the starting bacterial seeding density produces three variations in the sequence of morphogenic stages, which we term the bypass, crystalline, and incomplete modes. Despite these global architectural transitions, individual microcolonies remain spatially segregated, and thus the community maintains spatial and genetic heterogeneity. Our results suggest that the memory of the original microstructure is critical in setting the morphogenic dynamics of a pellicle as an active biomaterial.« less
  6. Bacterial biofilms represent a basic form of multicellular organization that confers survival advantages to constituent cells. The sequential stages of cell ordering during biofilm development have been studied in the pathogen and model biofilm-formerVibrio cholerae. It is unknown how spatial trajectories of individual cells and the collective motions of many cells drive biofilm expansion. We developed dual-view light-sheet microscopy to investigate the dynamics of biofilm development from a founder cell to a mature three-dimensional community. Tracking of individual cells revealed two distinct fates: one set of biofilm cells expanded ballistically outward, while the other became trapped at the substrate. Amore »collective fountain-like flow transported cells to the biofilm front, bypassing members trapped at the substrate and facilitating lateral biofilm expansion. This collective flow pattern was quantitatively captured by a continuum model of biofilm growth against substrate friction. Coordinated cell movement required the matrix protein RbmA, without which cells expanded erratically. Thus, tracking cell lineages and trajectories in space and time revealed how multicellular structures form from a single founder cell.

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  7. During development, organisms acquire three-dimensional (3D) shapes with important physiological consequences. While basic mechanisms underlying morphogenesis are known in eukaryotes, it is often difficult to manipulate them in vivo. To circumvent this issue, here we present a study of developingVibrio choleraebiofilms grown on agar substrates in which the spatiotemporal morphological patterns were altered by varying the agar concentration. Expanding biofilms are initially flat but later undergo a mechanical instability and become wrinkled. To gain mechanistic insights into this dynamic pattern-formation process, we developed a model that considers diffusion of nutrients and their uptake by bacteria, bacterial growth/biofilm matrix production, mechanicalmore »deformation of both the biofilm and the substrate, and the friction between them. Our model shows quantitative agreement with experimental measurements of biofilm expansion dynamics, and it accurately predicts two distinct spatiotemporal patterns observed in the experiments—the wrinkles initially appear either in the peripheral region and propagate inward (soft substrate/low friction) or in the central region and propagate outward (stiff substrate/high friction). Our results, which establish that nonuniform growth and friction are fundamental determinants of stress anisotropy and hence biofilm morphology, are broadly applicable to bacterial biofilms with similar morphologies and also provide insight into how other bacterial biofilms form distinct wrinkle patterns. We discuss the implications of forming undulated biofilm morphologies, which may enhance the availability of nutrients and signaling molecules and serve as a “bet hedging” strategy.

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