What’s common between humans and bacteria? Well, don’t skip this article taking the question is stupid. Apart from having a life, could you think of something else? Put it down in the comment section and yeah, the recent discovery that we have is that the way we humans settle in colonies does not differ from the way bacteria settles.
The more we learn about how these tiny architects build their communities, the more familiar their behavior seems to us.
A recent study reveals that the way multiple individual settlers develop into microcolonies has found growth patterns and dynamics that do not differ from our urban inclinations.
Hyun Koo from the University of Pennsylvania said that they took the ‘satellite-level’ view, following hundreds of bacteria that have distributed on a surface from their initial colonization to biofilm formation. And what we find is remarkable, the spatial and structural features of their growth are analogous to what we see in urbanization.
Bacteria live in complex structures known as biofilms in both natures and our mouths. About 99.9% of prokaryotes live crammed together with millions of other neighbors in one of these settlements.
These biofilms are everywhere. If they are in our mouth, then we refer it to as plaque. This is hard to remove using environmental assaults, like toothpaste, floss or even antibiotics as it is a dense and sticky deposit.
How this occurs is still unexplored.
Using the oral bacterium Streptococcus mutans, researchers have shown that microbial cells settle at random and regardless of the surface type. Only a subset of colonizers cluster, expanding their scope “by amalgamating neighboring bacteria into densely populated microcolonies.” The others are dying or are being engulfed into these microcolonies.
Something interesting happens once these clusters arise as they interact with one another, growing and organizing into densely populated “micron-scale microcolonies that further expand and merge” to form a biofilm superstructure.
The growth type which shows collective behavior between microorganisms is something similar to that of human urbanization. Some stay static whereas some others grow into villages that further expand into densely populated microcolonies or cities, which then merge into microbial megacities.
There are limits to this idea. Authors aren’t reading these microbes build traffic signs, roads and supply lines, but the general idea is the same, and it can not only help us tackle infections better, but it might also help us build more sustainably.
“It’s a useful analogy, but we should take it with a grain of salt,” Koo says.
“These communities (microcolonies) can expand and merge collaboratively, without competition between adjacent communities,” the authors conclude.
Taking this perspective of biofilm growth gives us a multi-scale, multidimensional picture of how they grow that we’ve not seen before.
The study was published in Nature Communications.