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Understanding morphogenesis in myxobacteria from a theoretical and experimental perspective

By Antony Holmes


Several species of bacteria exhibit multicellular behaviour, with individuals cells cooperatively working together within a colony. Often this has communal benefit since multiple cells acting in unison can accomplish far more than an individual cell can and the rewards can be shared by many cells. Myxobacteria are one of the most complex of the multicellular bacteria, exhibiting a number of different spatial phenotypes. Colonies engage in multiple emergent behaviours in response to starvation culminating in the formation of massive, multicellular fruiting bodies. \ud In this thesis, experimental work and theoretical modelling are used to investigate emergent behaviour in myxobacteria. Computational models were created using FABCell, an open source software modelling tool developed as part of the research to facilitate modelling large biological systems. \ud The research described here provides novel insights into emergent behaviour and suggests potential mechanisms for allowing myxobacterial cells to go from a vegetative state into a fruiting body. A differential equation model of the Frz signalling pathway, a key component in the regulation of cell motility, is developed. This is combined with a three-dimensional model describing the physical characteristics of cells using Monte Carlo methods, which allows thousands of cells to be simulated. The unified model explains how cells can ripple, stream, aggregate and form fruiting bodies. Importantly, the model copes with the transition between stages showing it is possible for the important myxobacteria control systems to adapt and display multiple behaviours

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