Research Article: Peer pressure from a Proteus mirabilis self-recognition system controls participation in cooperative swarm motility

Date Published: July 19, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Murray J. Tipping, Karine A. Gibbs, Matthew R. Parsek.


Colonies of the opportunistic pathogen Proteus mirabilis can distinguish self from non-self: in swarming colonies of two different strains, one strain excludes the other from the expanding colony edge. Predominant models characterize bacterial kin discrimination as immediate antagonism towards non-kin cells, typically through delivery of toxin effector molecules from one cell into its neighbor. Upon effector delivery, receiving cells must either neutralize it by presenting a cognate anti-toxin as would a clonal sibling, or suffer cell death or irreversible growth inhibition as would a non-kin cell. Here we expand this paradigm to explain the non-lethal Ids self-recognition system, which stops access to a social behavior in P. mirabilis by selectively and transiently inducing non-self cells into a growth-arrested lifestyle incompatible with cooperative swarming. This state is characterized by reduced expression of genes associated with protein synthesis, virulence, and motility, and also causes non-self cells to tolerate previously lethal concentrations of antibiotics. We show that temporary activation of the stringent response is necessary for entry into this state, ultimately resulting in the iterative exclusion of non-self cells as a swarm colony migrates outwards. These data clarify the intricate connection between non-lethal recognition and the lifecycle of P. mirabilis swarm colonies.

Partial Text

Organisms rarely live in complete isolation. Living in a community can provide benefits to each individual. However, there is a constant balance between the interests of individuals and the maintenance of community-wide advantages. A stable evolutionary strategy is for individuals to preferentially direct advantages to close kin [1–3]. This behavior, known as kin discrimination, has been the subject of focused study.




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