Cell-cell communication enhances bacterial chemotaxis toward external attractants

Zhicheng Long, Bryan Quaife, Hanna Salman, Zoltán N. Oltvai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Bacteria are able to coordinate their movement, growth and biochemical activities through cell-cell communication. While the biophysical mechanism of bacterial chemotaxis has been well understood in individual cells, the role of communication in the chemotaxis of bacterial populations is not clear. Here we report experimental evidence for cell-cell communication that significantly enhances the chemotactic migration of bacterial populations, a finding that we further substantiate using numerical simulations. Using a microfluidic approach, we find that E. coli cells respond to the gradient of chemoattractant not only by biasing their own random-walk swimming pattern through the well-understood intracellular chemotaxis signaling, but also by actively secreting a chemical signal into the extracellular medium, possibly through a hitherto unknown communication signal transduction pathway. This extracellular signaling molecule is a strong chemoattractant that attracts distant cells to the food source. The observed behavior may represent a common evolved solution to accelerate the function of biochemical networks of interacting cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12855
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank J. Li and B. Evans of the Proteomics & Mass Spectrometry Facility of Washington University’s Danforth Plant Science Center (St. Louis, MO) for performing the amino acid analyses, R.E.C. Lee for discussion and J.R. Chaillet for comments on the manuscript. This study was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation to H.S. and Z.N.O.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s).


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