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Curr Opin Microbiol. 2011 Dec;14(6):741-7. doi: 10.1016/j.mib.2011.09.016. Epub 2011 Oct 23.

Extracellular signaling and multicellularity in Bacillus subtilis.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, United States.


Bacillus subtilis regulates its ability to differentiate into distinct, co-existing cell types in response to extracellular signaling molecules produced either by itself, or present in its environment. The production of molecules by B. subtilis cells, as well as their response to these signals, is not uniform across the population. There is specificity and heterogeneity both within genetically identical populations as well as at the strain-level and species-level. This review will discuss how extracellular signaling compounds influence B. subtilis multicellularity with regard to matrix-producing cannibal differentiation, germination, and swarming behavior, as well as the specificity of the quorum-sensing peptides ComX and CSF. It will also highlight how imaging mass spectrometry can aid in identifying signaling compounds and contribute to our understanding of the functional relationship between such compounds and multicellular behavior.

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