Bacterial solutions to multicellularity: a tale of biofilms, filaments and fruiting bodies

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2014 Feb;12(2):115-24. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro3178. Epub 2014 Jan 2.


Although bacteria frequently live as unicellular organisms, many spend at least part of their lives in complex communities, and some have adopted truly multicellular lifestyles and have abandoned unicellular growth. These transitions to multicellularity have occurred independently several times for various ecological reasons, resulting in a broad range of phenotypes. In this Review, we discuss the strategies that are used by bacteria to form and grow in multicellular structures that have hallmark features of multicellularity, including morphological differentiation, programmed cell death and patterning. In addition, we examine the evolutionary and ecological factors that lead to the wide range of coordinated multicellular behaviours that are observed in bacteria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • Bacteria / cytology
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Transdifferentiation
  • Cytoskeleton
  • Signal Transduction
  • Spores, Bacterial