Swarming Bacteria

Atomic Force Microscope image of a group of Myxococcus zanthus bacteria. Each sausage shaped structure is a single bacterium.
 
Andrew E. Pelling, Yinuo Li, Wenyuan Shi and James K. Gimzewski, "Nanoscale visualization and characterization of Myxococcus xanthus with atomic force microscopy," PNAS, 102, 6484-6489 (2005).
 
ABSTRACT: Multicellular microbial communities are the predominant form of existence for microorganisms in nature. As one of the most primitive social organisms, Myxococcus xanthus has been an ideal model bacterium for studying intercellular interaction and multicellular organization. Through previous genetic and EM studies, various extracellular appendages and matrix components have been found to be involved in the social behavior of M. xanthus, but none of them was directly visualized and analyzed under native conditions. Here, we used atomic force microscopy (AFM) imaging and in vivo force spectroscopy to characterize these cellular structures under native conditions. AFM imaging revealed morphological details on the extracellular ultrastructures at an unprecedented resolution, and in vivo force spectroscopy of live cells in fluid allowed us to nanomechanically characterize extracellular polymeric substances. The findings provide the basis for AFM as a useful tool for investigating microbial-surface ultrastructures and nanomechanical properties under native conditions.