Radial and spiral stream formation in proteus mirabilis colonies

Chuan Xue, Elena O. Budrene, Hans G. Othmer

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35 Scopus citations


The enteric bacterium Proteus mirabilis, which is a pathogen that forms biofilms in vivo, can swarm over hard surfaces and form a variety of spatial patterns in colonies. Colony formation involves two distinct cell types: swarmer cells that dominate near the surface and the leading edge, and swimmer cells that prefer a less viscous medium, but the mechanisms underlying pattern formation are not understood. New experimental investigations reported here show that swimmer cells in the center of the colony stream inward toward the inoculation site and in the process form many complex patterns, including radial and spiral streams, in addition to previously-reported concentric rings. These new observations suggest that swimmers are motile and that indirect interactions between them are essential in the pattern formation. To explain these observations we develop a hybrid model comprising cell-based and continuum components that incorporates a chemotactic response of swimmers to a chemical they produce. The model predicts that formation of radial streams can be explained as the modulation of the local attractant concentration by the cells, and that the chirality of the spiral streams results from a swimming bias of the cells near the surface of the substrate. The spatial patterns generated from the model are in qualitative agreement with the experimental observations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1002332
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2011


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