Environmental microbiology

Identification and characterization of a highly motile and antibiotic refractory subpopulation involved in the expansion of swarming colonies of Paenibacillus vortex.

PMID 23763278


Bacteria often use sophisticated cooperative behaviours, such as the development of complex colonies, elaborate biofilms and advanced dispersal strategies, to cope with the harsh and variable conditions of natural habitats, including the presence of antibiotics. Paenibacillus vortex uses swarming motility and cell-to-cell communication to form complex, structured colonies. The modular organization of P. vortex colony has been found to facilitate its dispersal on agar surfaces. The current study reveals that the complex structure of the colony is generated by the coexistence and transition between two morphotypes--'builders' and 'explorers'--with distinct functions in colony formation. Here, we focused on the explorers, which are highly motile and spearhead colonial expansion. Explorers are characterized by high expression levels of flagellar genes, such as flagellin (hag), motA, fliI, flgK and sigD, hyperflagellation, decrease in ATP (adenosine-5'-triphosphate) levels, and increased resistance to antibiotics. Their tolerance to many antibiotics gives them the advantage of translocation through antibiotics-containing areas. This work gives new insights on the importance of cell differentiation and task distribution in colony morphogenesis and adaptation to antibiotics.