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.
Bibliographical noteFunding 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.
© 2017 The Author(s).