Waves at the beach are relaxing. Waves at a baseball game are fun. Waves in the bacterial world are deadly. This is according to a study offered by scientists from Rice University and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston Medical School.
The study’s findings show one of the world’s smallest predators, the soil bacteria Myxococcus xanthus, uses a wave formula to spread, engulf and devour other bacteria.
Featured on the cover of this month’s online issue of the journal PLOS Computational Biology, this study explains how the simple motions of individual bacteria are amplified within the larger colony, forming a millions-strong wave that moves outward, seemingly in unison.
“When the cells at the edge of the colony are moving outward, they are unlikely to encounter another Myxococcus xanthus cell, so they keep moving forward,” said lead author Oleg Igoshin, assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice. “When they are traveling the other way, back toward the rest of the colony, they are likely to encounter other cells of their kind, and when they pass beside one of these and touch, they get the signal to turn around.”