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Living On the Edge…of the swarm

If anybody knows how to move, it’s bacteria. They swim in liquids using rotating flagella, but they also know how to twitch, glide, and slide on surfaces. The mechanisms that power their surface motility are varied, ranging from energy-intensive processes such as the extension and retraction of type IV pili (twitching) to movement via focal-adhesion complexes of the cell’s outer surface (gliding) or growth-induced translocation aided by surfactants (sliding). Some flagellated bacteria can also use the rotating motion of the flagellum to move across moist surfaces, a process known as swarming motility. As the word indicates, swarming is a collective behavior. Swarming cells move side-by-side in regular or irregular formations known as rafts or swarms. See, for example, previous blog posts showing the regular rafts produced by Paenibacillus or the distinctive, irregular terraces formed by Proteus. And even E. coli does it, too!

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