Swarming motility in undomesticated Bacillus subtilis

Mol Microbiol. 2003 Aug;49(3):581-90. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2958.2003.03584.x.


Swarming motility was identified and characterized in an undomesticated strain of Bacillus subtilis. Rapid surface migration was preceded by a cell density-dependent lag period, which could be eliminated if actively swarming cells were used as the inoculum. The leading edge of the swarm was characterized by multicellular rafts of highly flagellated cells. Flagellum biosynthesis and surfactant production were required for swarming. Swarming was not found in any of several standard laboratory strains. Laboratory strains are characteristically unable to produce surfactant, but such a strain remained unable to swarm even when surfactant was provided by extracellular complementation. We conclude that robust swarming is a feature of undomesticated B. subtilis and that this behaviour has been lost or attenuated in laboratory strains through the accumulation of multiple genetic defects.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus subtilis / physiology*
  • Bacillus subtilis / ultrastructure
  • Bacteriological Techniques
  • Flagella / physiology
  • Lipopeptides
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Microscopy, Video
  • Peptides, Cyclic / physiology
  • Phenotype
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Species Specificity


  • Lipopeptides
  • Peptides, Cyclic
  • surfactin peptide