Open Access Research article

Patterning of mutually interacting bacterial bodies: close contacts and airborne signals

Jaroslav J Čepl1, Irena Pátková1, Anna Blahůšková1, Fatima Cvrčková2 and Anton Markoš1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of philosophy and history of science, Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Science, Viničná 7, Praha 2, 128 44 Czechia

2 Department of experimental plant biology, Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Science, Viničná 5, Praha 2, 128 44 Czechia

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:139  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-139

Published: 12 May 2010



Bacterial bodies (colonies) can develop complex patterns of color and structure. These patterns may arise as a result of both colony-autonomous developmental and regulatory processes (self-patterning) and environmental influences, including those generated by neighbor bodies. We have studied the interplay of intra-colony signaling (self-patterning) and inter-colony influences in related clones of Serratia rubidaea grown on rich media.


Colonies are shaped by both autonomous patterning and by signals generated by co-habitants of the morphogenetic space, mediating both internal shaping of the body, and communication between bodies sharing the same living space. The result of development is affected by the overall distribution of neighbors in the dish. The neighbors' presence is communicated via at least two putative signals, while additional signals may be involved in generating some unusual patterns observed upon encounters of different clones. A formal model accounting for some aspects of colony morphogenesis and inter-colony interactions is proposed.


The complex patterns of color and texture observed in Serratia rubidaea colonies may be based on at least two signals produced by cells, one of them diffusing through the substrate (agar) and the other carried by a volatile compound and absorbed into the substrate. Differences between clones with regard to the interpretation of signals may result from different sensitivity to signal threshold(s).