Different resource allocation in a bacillus subtilis population displaying bimodal motility

Simon Syvertsson, Biwen Wang, Jojet Staal, Yongqiang Gao, Remco Kort, Leendert W. Hamoen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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To cope with sudden changes in their environment, bacteria can use a bet-hedging strategy by dividing the population into cells with different properties. This so-called bimodal or bistable cellular differentiation is generally controlled by positive feedback regulation of transcriptional activators. Due to the continuous increase in cell volume, it is difficult for these activators to reach an activation threshold concentration when cells are growing exponentially. This is one reason why bimodal differentiation is primarily observed from the onset of the stationary phase, when exponential growth ceases. An exception is the bimodal induction of motility in Bacillus subtilis, which occurs early during exponential growth. Several mechanisms have been put forward to explain this, including double-negative feedback regulation and the stability of the mRNA molecules involved. In this study, we used fluorescence-assisted cell sorting (FACS) to compare the transcriptomes of motile and nonmotile cells and noted that expression of ribosomal genes is lower in motile cells. This was confirmed using an unstable green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter fused to the strong ribosomal rpsD promoter. We propose that the reduction in ribosomal gene expression in motile cells is the result of a diversion of cellular resources to the synthesis of the chemotaxis and motility systems. In agreement with this, single-cell microscopic analysis showed that motile cells are slightly shorter than nonmotile cells, an indication of slower growth. We speculate that this growth rate reduction can contribute to the bimodal induction of motility during exponential growth.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00037-21
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Bacteriology
Issue number12
Early online date20 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
S.S. was supported by a BBSRC DTG Ph.D. studentship (2009), Y.G. and B.W. were supported by a China Scholarship Council fellowship, and L.W.H. was supported by NWO STW-Vici grant 12128.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Bacillus subtilis
  • Flagellar motility


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