Identification and characterization of a highly motile and antibiotic refractory subpopulation involved in the expansion of swarming colonies ofPaenibacillus vortex

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Bacteria often use sophisticated cooperative behaviours, such as the development of complex colonies, elaborate biofilms and advanced dispersal strategies, to cope with the harsh and variable conditions of natural habitats, including the presence of antibiotics.Paenibacillus vortexuses swarming motility and cell-to-cell communication to form complex, structured colonies. The modular organization ofP. vortexcolony has been found to facilitate its dispersal on agar surfaces. The current study reveals that the complex structure of the colony is generated by the coexistence and transition between two morphotypes – ‘builders’ and ‘explorers’ – with distinct functions in colony formation. Here, we focused on theexplorers, which are highly motile and spearhead colonial expansion. Explorersare characterized by high expression levels of flagellar genes, such asflagellin (hag), motA, fliI, flgK and sigD, hyperflagellation, decrease in ATP (adenosine-5′-triphosphate) levels, and increased resistance to antibiotics. Their tolerance to many antibiotics gives them the advantage of translocation through antibiotics-containing areas. This work gives new insights on the importance of cell differentiation and task distribution in colony morphogenesis and adaptation to antibiotics.

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