Sociobiology of the myxobacteria

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2009;63:599-623. doi: 10.1146/annurev.micro.091208.073158.


Cooperation is integral to much of biological life but can be threatened by selfish evolutionary strategies. Diverse cooperative traits have evolved among microbes, but particularly sophisticated forms of sociality have arisen in the myxobacteria, including group motility and multicellular fruiting body development. Myxobacterial cooperation has succeeded against socially destructive cheaters and can readily re-evolve from some socially defective genotypes. However, social harmony does not extend far. Spatially structured natural populations of the model species Myxococcus xanthus have fragmented into a large number of socially incompatible genotypes that exclude, exploit, and/or antagonize one another, including genetically similar neighbors. Here, we briefly review basic social evolution concepts as they pertain to microbes, discuss potential benefits of myxobacterial social traits, highlight recent empirical studies of social evolution in M. xanthus, and consider their implications for how myxobacterial cooperation and conflict evolve in the wild.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Locomotion
  • Myxococcus xanthus / genetics
  • Myxococcus xanthus / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Spores, Bacterial / physiology