Bacteria – exploring new horizons

Streptomyces coelicolor Historically, bacteria have been thought of as simple cells whose only aim is to replicate. However, research over the past two decades has revealed that many types of bacteria are able to develop into communities that contain several types of cells, with different cell types performing particular roles. Streptomyces bacteria employ a newly-discovered cell type, the “explorer” cell, to rapidly colonize new areas in the face of competition. For decades, researchers have described Streptomyces colonies in terms of vegetative cells, aerial hyphae and spores. The explorer cells offer Streptomyces an alternative means of escape from their normal life cycle and local environment in the face of competition. This makes sens, given that Streptomyces lack the ability to move (“motility”) in the traditional sense (for example, by swimming or gliding). This discovery demonstrates a surprisingly dynamic strategy in which a ‘non-motile’ bacterium can use cues from other microbes, long-range signaling, and multicellularity to make a graceful exit when times get tough.


Bacteria: Exploring new horizons. (2017) eLife 6: e23624. doi: 10.7554/eLife.23624

Streptomyces exploration is triggered by fungal interactions and volatile signals. (2017) eLife 6: e21738. doi: 10.7554/eLife.21738

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