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Bloomin' Bacteria

Flower-like growth patterns of mixed bacterial colonies

14 February 2020

Bloomin' Bacteria

From spiralling galaxies to microscopic bacteria, there’s much to learn in nature’s patterns. This flower-like shape emerges as two types of bacteria grow side-by-side on an agar dish. While A. baylyi (red) move or ‘migrate’ outwards, the comparatively sluggish E. coli (green) 'piggyback' on their mobile neighbours – holding them back with frictional forces that give the colony its looping petals. Scientists have developed mathematical models to simulate these forces, virtually recreating these blooms. In the future these may predict how colonies with mixtures of different bacteria might grow and develop in the real world – biofilms building in dental plaque, for example, or crawling over medical implants like pacemakers. Learning how these bacteria interact could be a step towards unravelling their patterns.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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