In nature, bacteria usually live in communities. They collectively colonize our gut, also known as the gut microbiome, or form biofilms such as dental plaque. Living in communities provides many advantages to the individual microbes. They are more resilient against adverse environmental conditions, conquer new territories and benefit from each other.
Novel method: analyzing microbial communities in space and time
The development of bacterial communities is a highly complex process where bacteria form intricate three-dimensional structures. In their latest study published in "Nature Microbiology", the team led by Prof. Knut Drescher from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel has investigated the development of bacterial swarm communities in detail. They achieved a methodological breakthrough enabling them to simultaneously measure gene expression and image the behavior of individual cells in microbial communities in space and time.
Great care: bacteria provide resources for future generations
"We used Bacillus subtilis as a model organism. This ubiquitous bacterium is also found in our intestinal flora. We have revealed that these bacteria, which live in communities, cooperate and interact with each other across generations," explains Prof Knut Drescher, head of the study. "Earlier generations deposit metabolites for later generations." They also identified different subpopulations within a bacterial swarm, which produce and consume different metabolites. Some of the metabolites secreted by one subpopulation become the food for other subpopulations that emerge later during swarm development.