Cooperative organization of bacterial colonies: From genotype to morphotype

Eshel Ben-Jacob, Inon Cohen, David L. Gutnick*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In nature, bacteria must often cope with difficult environmental conditions. To do so they have developed sophisticated cooperative behavior and intricate communication pathways. Utilizing these elements, motile microbial colonies frequently develop complex patterns in response to adverse growth conditions on hard surfaces under conditions of energy limitation. We employ the term morphotype to refer to specific properties of colonial development. The morphologies we discuss include a tip-splitting (T) morphotype, chiral (C) morphotype, and vortex (V) morphotype. A generic modeling approach was developed by combining a detailed study of the cellular behavior and dynamics during colonial development and invoking concepts derived from the study of pattern formation in nonliving systems. Analysis of patterning behavior of the models suggests bacterial processes whereby communication leads to self-organization by using cooperative cellular interactions. New features emerging from the model include various modes of cell-cell signaling, such as long-range chemorepulsion, short-range chemoattraction, and, in the case of the V morphotype, rotational chemotaxis. In this regard, pattern formation in microorganisms can be viewed as the result of the exchange of information between the micro-level (the individual cells) and the macro-level (the colony).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)779-806
Number of pages28
JournalAnnual Review of Microbiology
StatePublished - 1998


  • Bacterial motility
  • Cell-cell communication
  • Chemotaxis
  • Colonial development
  • Pattern formation


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