A complex pattern of traveling stripes is produced by swimming cells of Bacillus subtilis

Neil H. Mendelson, Joceline Lega

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Motile cells of Bacillus subtilis inadvertently escaped from the surface of an agar disk that was surrounded by a fluid growth medium and formed a migrating population in the fluid. When viewed from above, the population appeared as a cloud advancing unidirectionally into the fresh medium. The cell population became spontaneously organized into a series of stripes in a region behind the advancing cloud front. The number of stripes increased progressively until a saturation value of stripe density per unit area was reached. New stripes arose at a fixed distance behind the cloud front and also between stripes. The spacing between stripes underwent changes with time as stripes migrated towards and away from the cloud front. The global pattern appeared to be stretched by the advancing cloud front. At a time corresponding to approximately two cell doublings after pattern formation, the pattern decayed, suggesting that there is a maximum number of cells that can be maintained within the pattern. Stripes appear to consist of high concentrations of cells organized in sinking columns that are part of a bioconvection system. Their behavior reveals an interplay between bacterial swimming, bioconvection-driven fluid motion, and cell concentration. A mathematical model that reproduces the development and dynamics of the stripe pattern has been developed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3285-3294
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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