Molecular recognition in myxobacterial outer membrane exchange: functional, social and evolutionary implications



Through cooperative interactions, bacteria can build multicellular communities. To ensure that productive interactions occur, bacteria must recognize their neighbours and respond accordingly. Molecular recognition between cells is thus a fundamental behaviour, and in bacteria important discoveries have been made. This MicroReview focuses on a recently described recognition system in myxobacteria that is governed by a polymorphic cell surface receptor called TraA. TraA regulates outer membrane exchange (OME), whereby myxobacterial cells transiently fuse their OMs to efficiently transfer proteins and lipids between cells. Unlike other transport systems, OME is rather indiscriminate in what OM goods are transferred. In contrast, the recognition of partnering cells is discriminatory and only occurs between cells that bear identical or closely related TraA proteins. Therefore TraA functions in kin recognition and, in turn, OME helps regulate social interactions between myxobacteria. Here, I discuss and speculate on the social and evolutionary implications of OME and suggest it helps to guide their transition from free-living cells into coherent and functional populations.