Metabolic cross-feeding via intercellular nanotubes among bacteria

Nat Commun. 2015 Feb 23;6:6238. doi: 10.1038/ncomms7238.


Bacteria frequently exchange metabolites by diffusion through the extracellular environment, yet it remains generally unclear whether bacteria can also use cell-cell connections to directly exchange nutrients. Here we address this question by engineering cross-feeding interactions within and between Acinetobacter baylyi and Escherichia coli, in which two distant bacterial species reciprocally exchange essential amino acids. We establish that in a well-mixed environment E. coli, but likely not A. baylyi, can connect to other bacterial cells via membrane-derived nanotubes and use these to exchange cytoplasmic constituents. Intercellular connections are induced by auxotrophy-causing mutations and cease to establish when amino acids are externally supplied. Electron and fluorescence microscopy reveal a network of nanotubular structures that connects bacterial cells and enables an intercellular transfer of cytoplasmic materials. Together, our results demonstrate that bacteria can use nanotubes to exchange nutrients among connected cells and thus help to distribute metabolic functions within microbial communities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acinetobacter / physiology*
  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Escherichia coli / physiology*
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Intercellular Junctions / physiology*
  • Nanotubes


  • Amino Acids

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.DS68K