Deciphering the hunting strategy of a bacterial wolfpack


  • Editor: Lee Kroos

Correspondence: John R. Kirby, Department of Microbiology, The University of Iowa, 51 Newton Road, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA. Tel.: +1 319 335 7818; fax: +1 319 335 9006; e-mail:


Myxococcus xanthus is a common soil bacterium with an intricate multicellular lifestyle that continues to challenge the way in which we conceptualize the capabilities of prokaryotic organisms. Myxococcus xanthus is the preferred laboratory representative from the Myxobacteria, a family of organisms distinguished by their ability to form highly structured biofilms that include tentacle-like packs of surface-gliding cell groups, synchronized rippling waves of oscillating cells and massive spore-filled aggregates that protrude upwards from the substratum to form fruiting bodies. But most of the Myxobacteria are also predators that thrive on the degradation of macromolecules released through the lysis of other microbial cells. The aim of this review is to examine our understanding of the predatory life cycle of M. xanthus. We will examine the multicellular structures formed during contact with prey, and the molecular mechanisms utilized by M. xanthus to detect and destroy prey cells. We will also examine our understanding of microbial predator–prey relationships and the prospects for how bacterial predation mechanisms can be exploited to generate new antimicrobial technologies.