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Viewpoint: The Aquatic Dance of Bacteria

Researchers apply a new experimental approach to visualize the turbulent motion of swimming bacteria and propose a minimal model that captures their observations.

Bacteria are among the oldest and most abundant living species on Earth, and their activity influences the planet’s environmental dynamics in multiple ways. Microbial metabolic products maintain soil structure, marine bacteria control the biochemistry and photosynthetic productivity of the oceans, and Geobacter bacteria are able to clean contaminated sites by “feeding” on heavy metals such as uranium. Bacteria often migrate en masse over large distances, moving in dense groups in a highly organized, collective fashion known as “swarming motility.” Compared to independent individual movements, such collective motions have multiple evolutionary advantages: a bacterial colony can more easily populate new territories, search for food, and increase its survival probability in harsh conditions. Swarming is also an effective strategy to prevail against antibiotics.

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