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Not Socially Distancing - II From the Crowd

Mapping movement of bacterial crowds to understand mutant cell behaviour

24 August 2020

From the Crowd

Crowds do interesting things – birds flock, teams surge, cells form patterns in embryos. Grouping together to face a challenge ensures at least some will succeed or survive. But how does the behaviour of individuals contribute to group dynamics, the emergent behaviour? These white-coloured swirls are mounds of Myxococcus xanthus bacteria which have huddled together under stress. Different coloured lines follow each individual bacterium on its journey to the safety of a larger community. Researchers used mathematical models to simulate how bacteria with certain mutated genes compensate for what they lack – speed, for example – with other traits, such as less erratic movement. Rather than simply mimicking the rest of the community, these individuals’ characteristics make crowds more robust and adaptable. Similar modelling approaches might help to investigate how individual cancer cells break away from a tumorous crowd during metastasis – as a step towards blocking this rogue behaviour.

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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