From organized internal traffic to collective navigation of bacterial swarms

Gil Ariel, Adi Shklarsh, Oren Kalisman, Colin Ingham, Eshel Ben-Jacob

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Bacterial swarming resulting in collective navigation over surfaces provides a valuable example of cooperative colonization of new territories. The social bacterium Paenibacillus vortex exhibits successful and diverse swarming strategies. When grown on hard agar surfaces with peptone, P. vortex develops complex colonies of vortices (rotating bacterial aggregates). In contrast, during growth on Mueller-Hinton broth gelled into a soft agar surface, a new strategy of multi-level organization is revealed: the colonies are organized into a special network of swarms (or 'snakes' of a fraction of millimeter in width) with intricate internal traffic. More specifically, cell movement is organized in two or three lanes of bacteria traveling between the back and the front of the swarm. This special form of cellular logistics suggests new methods in which bacteria can share resources and risk while searching for food or migrating into new territories. While the vortices-based organization on hard agar surfaces has been modeled before, here, we introduce a new multi-agent bacterial swarming model devised to capture the swarms-based organization on soft surfaces. We test two putative generic mechanisms that may underlie the observed swarming logistics: (i) chemo-activated taxis in response to chemical cues and (ii) special align-and-push interactions between the bacteria and the boundary of the layer of lubricant collectively generated by the swarming bacteria. Using realistic parameters, the model captures the observed phenomena with semi-quantitative agreement in terms of the velocity as well as the dynamics of the swarm and its envelope. This agreement implies that the bacteria interactions with the swarm boundary play a crucial role in mediating the interplay between the collective movement of the swarm and the internal traffic dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number125019
JournalNew Journal of Physics
StatePublished - Dec 2013


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