Novel form of collective movement by soil bacteria

Ilonka Engelhardt, Daniel Patko, Y. Liu, M. Mimault , G. de las Heras Martinez, Tetyana Sukhodub, Timothy S. George, Michael MacDonald, Mariya Ptashnyk, Nicola Stanley-Wall, Nicola Holden, Tim John Daniell, L. X. Dupuy (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
122 Downloads (Pure)


Although migrations are essential for soil microorganisms to exploit scarce and heterogeneously distributed resources, bacterial mobility in soil remains poorly studied due to experimental limitations. In this study, time-lapse images collected using live microscopy techniques captured collective and coordinated groups of B. subtilis cells exhibiting “crowd movement”. Groups of B. subtilis cells moved through transparent soil (nafion polymer with particle size resembling sand) toward plant roots and re-arranged dynamically around root tips in the form of elongating and retracting “flocks” resembling collective behaviour usually associated with higher organisms (e.g., bird flocks or fish schools). Genetic analysis reveals B. subtilis flocks are likely driven by the diffusion of extracellular signalling molecules (e.g., chemotaxis, quorum sensing) and may be impacted by the physical obstacles and hydrodynamics encountered in the soil like environment. Our findings advance understanding of bacterial migration through soil matrices and expand known behaviours for coordinated bacterial movement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2337-2347
Number of pages11
JournalThe ISME Journal
Early online date7 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


  • collective movement
  • co-ordination
  • transparent soil
  • B. subtilis
  • light sheet microscopy
  • bacterial flocculation
  • root colonisation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Microbiology


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