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Cell Mol Life Sci. 2007 Nov;64(21):2733-45.

The elusive engine in Myxococcus xanthus gliding motility.

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Laboratoire de Chimie Bactérienne, Institut de Biologie Structurale et Microbiologie, Campus CNRS Joseph Aiguier, 31 Chemin Joseph Aiguier, 13009 Marseille, France.


Bacterial motility is essential for chemotaxis, virulence and complex social interactions leading to biofilm and fruiting body formation. Although bacterial swimming in liquids with a flagellum is well understood, little is known regarding bacterial movements across solid surfaces. Gliding motility, one such mode of locomotion, has remained largely mysterious because cells move smoothly along their long axis in the absence of any visible organelle. In this review, I discuss recent evidence that focal adhesion systems mediate gliding motility in the social bacterium Myxococcus xanthus and combine this evidence with previous work to suggest a new working hypothesis inspired from knowledge in apicomplexan parasites. I then propose experimental directions to test the model and compare it to other pre-existing models. Finally, evidence on gliding mechanisms of selected organisms are presented to ask whether some features of the model have precedents in other bacteria and whether this complex biological process could be explained by a single mechanism or involves multiple distinct mechanisms.

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