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J Bacteriol. 2011 Oct;193(19):5081-9. doi: 10.1128/JB.05383-11. Epub 2011 Aug 5.

Role of phase variation in the resistance of Myxococcus xanthus fruiting bodies to Caenorhabditis elegans predation.

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University of Minnesota Duluth, Department of Biology, 207 SSB, 1035 Kirby Dr., Duluth, MN 55812, USA.


The phenomenon of phase variation between yellow and tan forms of Myxococcus xanthus has been recognized for several decades, but it is not known what role this variation may play in the ecology of myxobacteria. We confirm an earlier report that tan variants are disproportionately more numerous in the resulting spore population of a M. xanthus fruiting body than the tan vegetative cells that contributed to fruiting body formation. However, we found that tan cells may not require yellow cells for fruiting body formation or starvation-induced sporulation of tan cells. Here we report three differences between the yellow and tan variants that may play important roles in the soil ecology of M. xanthus. Specifically, the yellow variant is more capable of forming biofilms, is more sensitive to lysozyme, and is more resistant to ingestion by bacteriophagous nematodes. We also show that the myxobacterial fruiting body is more resistant to predation by worms than are dispersed M. xanthus cells.

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