Bacteria are single-celled organisms, but that doesn’t mean they have to live and work alone. Myxococcus xanthus bacteria travel in a wandering, rippling swarm that some scientists refer to as a “wolf pack”.
They don’t do it for exercise: this pack hunts other microbes. Like the creature from The Blob, the swarm preys on everything in its path.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
The Myxococcus release antibiotics and digestive enzymes to paralyse the unlucky victim and break it down. All the nearby Myxococcus slurp up the resulting slurry.
This strategy works well when the bacteria are patrolling well-stocked hunting grounds. But if they run out of prey, they tighten their belts.
The bacteria slow down and start to build a tower. Stacking on top of another, layer by layer, about 100,000 bacteria assemble themselves into a yellowish, globular fruiting body.
Some of the bacteria in the fruiting body are special: they form round spores with a tough outer coat. These spores don’t need food or water, and can wait around until food is plentiful again. At that point, they germinate and start the swarm anew.
WHY SYNTHESIZE THIS?
We can possibly come up with useful ways of using the pack behavior in other organisms, for example by making a certain white blood cells hunt down a specific desease down more agressivly.
Image courtesy of Juergen Berger and Supriya Kadam