Classification and genetic characterization of pattern-forming Bacilli.

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One of the more natural but less commonly studied forms of colonial bacterial growth is pattern formation. This type of growth is characterized by bacterial populations behaving in an organized manner to generate readily identifiable geometric and predictable morphologies on solid and semi-solid surfaces. In our first attempt to study the molecular basis of pattern formation in Bacillus subtilis, we stumbled upon an enigma: some strains used to describe pattern formation in B. subtilis did not have the phenotypic or genotypic characteristics of B. subtilis. In this report, we show that these strains are actually not B. subtilis, but belong to a different class of Bacilli, group I. We show further that commonly used laboratory strains of B. subtilis can co-exist as mixed cultures with group I Bacilli, and that the latter go unnoticed when grown on frequently used laboratory substrates. However, when B. subtilis is grown under more stringent semiarid conditions, members of group I emerge in the form of complex patterns. When B. subtilis is grown under less stringent and more motile conditions, B. subtilis forms its own pattern, and members of group I remain unnoticed. These findings have led us to revise some of the mechanistic and evolutionary hypotheses that have been proposed to explain pattern growth in Bacilli.





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