Competing bacteria

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Green background, inside circle two separate yellow lines with leaf-like growths on both.

Green background, inside circle two separate yellow lines with leaf-like growths on both. Eshel Ben-Jacob

Rivalries in nature regularly produce clashing outcomes, and a recent study proved that this can also be the case for some bacteria. Colonies of the bacterium Paenibacillus dendritiformis have been shown to produce a lethal chemical to keep their competition at a distance.

The study forced two colonies of bacteria into the same space, and the result was the formation of a distinct “no-mans land” between them. A protein was identified in the space, and subsequent testing showed it had a lethal effect on the bacteria, causing instinctive movement away from the protein.

“It supports the notion that each colony is a superorganism, a multicellular organism with it’s own identity,” said Eshel Ben-Jacob, an adjunct senior scientist at UC San Diego’s Center for Theoretical Biological Physics.  In this work, Ben-Jacobs collaborated with Avraham Be’er of the University of Texas, Austin, and others.