Cargo transport shapes the spatial organization of a microbial community

Abhishek Shrivastava, Visha K. Patel, Yisha Tang, Susan Connolly Yost, Floyd E. Dewhirst, Howard C. Berg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The human microbiome is an assemblage of diverse bacteria that interact with one another to form communities. Bacteria in a given community are arranged in a 3D matrix with many degrees of freedom. Snapshots of the community display well-defined structures, but the steps required for their assembly are not understood. Here, we show that this construction is carried out with the help of gliding bacteria. Gliding is defined as the motion of cells over a solid or semisolid surface without the necessity of growth or the aid of pili or flagella. Genomic analysis suggests that gliding bacteria are present in human microbial communities. We focus on Capnocytophaga gingivalis, which is present in abundance in the human oral microbiome. Tracking of fluorescently labeled single cells and of gas bubbles carried by fluid flow shows that swarms of C. gingivalis are layered, with cells in the upper layers moving more rapidly than those in the lower layers. Thus, cells also glide on top of one another. Cells of nonmotile bacterial species attach to the surface of C. gingivalis and are propelled as cargo. The cargo cell moves along the length of a C. gingivalis cell, looping from one pole to the other. Multicolor fluorescent spectral imaging of cells of different live but nonmotile bacterial species reveals their long-range transport in a polymicrobial community. A swarm of C. gingivalis transports some nonmotile bacterial species more efficiently than others and helps to shape the spatial organization of a polymicrobial community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8633-8638
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number34
StatePublished - Aug 21 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Cargo transport
  • Gliding
  • Microbiome
  • Polymicrobial biofilm
  • Swarm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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