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Summary

Myxococcus xanthus is a Gram-negative bacterium that glides on a solid surface and displays a wide range of social behaviour including microbial development. The frz genes are homologues to the chemotaxis genes of Escherichia coli and Salmonella typhimurium and have been shown to be involved in microbial development. However, chemotaxis has never been clearly demonstrated in Myxococcus. In this study, we showed that M. xanthus exhibited tactic movements to many chemicals when they were subjected to steep and stable chemical gradients. M. xanthus was observed to spread into areas with abundant nutrients like yeast extract or Casitone and avoid areas with no nutrients or repellents (short-chain alcohols or DMSO. Responses to attractants and repellents were additive. Movement towards attractants or away from repellents required the frz genes and was correlated with methylation or demethylation of FrzCD, a methyl-accepting taxis protein. Furthermore, the frz genes were found to be required for both fruiting body formation during starvation and swarming in nutrient-rich medium. In wild-type strains, cells near the colony edge were observed to swarm towards the surrounding growth medium and to contain highly methylated FrzCD; cells near the colony centre contained mainly demethylated FrzCD and showed directed movement towards the colony edge. FrzCD was also found to be methylated during the aggregation stage of fruiting body formation on agar but largely demethylated in cells shaken in liquid starvation media. An frzf mutant failed to exhibit directed cell movements and no longer showed modification of FrzCD under these conditions. These observations suggest that M. xanthus does show chemotactic movements, that these movements require the frz genes, and that chemotaxis plays a very important role in the social behaviour of this organism.