González Pastor, J. E. 2012. Multicellularity and Social Behaviour in Bacillus subtilis. Bacillus: Cellular and Molecular Biology, 367-394, DOI: 10.21775/9781910190579-12
Most of the knowledge ab out Bacillus subtilis derives from studies of lab oratory strains growing as planktonic cultures, in which all the individual cells are considered identical. Recently, the study of a natural and undomesticated isolate has revealed that B. subtilis cells display multicellular and social features that were lost in the laboratory strains, which were selected over generations for easy manipulation. In undomesticated strains, certain environmental conditions trigger cells of this bacterium to form multicellular communities where sporulation takes place, and to exhibit some particular social traits, like swarming motility, the fratricide of sibling cells or cannibalism during sporulation, and the release of extracellular DNA. Interestingly, some of these behaviours are based in the heterogeneity of the B. subtilis populations, which has been determined using cell biological techniques like fluorescence and light microscopy. This chapter outlines the genetic pathways governing the transition from a unicellular to a multicellular stage, swarming motility and cannibalism. The biological relevance of these alternative lifestyles is discussed.