UW research team publishes findings into how bacteria create 'social groups,' multicellular organisms - Casper, WY Oil City News
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UW research team publishes findings into how bacteria create ‘social groups,’ multicellular organisms

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CASPER, Wyo — A University of Wyoming (UW) professor and 2 Ph.D. students have published in the June 22 issue of the International Society for Microbial Ecology (ISME) Journal, the university said in a written statement on Monday.

UW Molecular Biology professor Dan Wall and Ph.D. candidates Christopher Vassallo and Vera Troselj are co-authors of the paper which posed the question: “How do cells from a diverse environment recognize other cells as related or clonal to build social groups and a multicellular organism?”

How individual cells within a multicellular organism interact to coordinate diverse processes is a fundamental question in biology, according to the UW release. 

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The research team studied myxobacteria — common soil microbes that prey off other microbes for food. “This work is mostly fundamental and addresses how cells discriminate between the self and non-self,” Wall said.

Wall added, “Our paper addresses the mechanism of how [myxobacteria] discriminate and how highly-related strains recently diverged, or evolved, into distinct social groups.”

Ph.D. candidates Christopher Vassallo and Vera Troselj

Their findings were published in the paper “Rapid Diversification of Wild Social Groups Driven by Toxin-Immunity Loci on Mobile Genetic Elements in the ISME Journal, which publishes leading research in microbial ecology  including bacteria, archaea, microbial eukaryotes and viruses, according to UW.

“Myxobacteria assemble a multicellular organism by cobbling together cells from their environment. This is in contrast to plants and animals, where gametes fuse to create a unique cell, which, upon clonal expansion, creates a multicellular organism,” said Professor Wall. “The ability of myxobacteria to create multicellular organisms is remarkable, given that soil is considered to be the most diverse environment on the planet, wherein a small sample can consist of tens of thousands of microbial species. Broadly speaking, our work helps to address this question.”

Vassallo and Troselj are now postdoctoral researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, respectively. Michael Weltzer, a UW graduate student in the Molecular and Cellular Life Sciences program from Idaho Springs, Colo., is another co-author.

Read the full UW release for more details on the research.