Pseudomonad Swarming Motility Is Restricted to a Narrow Range of High Matric Water Potentials

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Using a novel experimental system that allows control of the matric potential of an agar slab, we explored the hydration conditions under which swarming motility is possible. If there is recognition that this physical parameter is a key determinant of swarming, it is usually neither controlled nor measured rigorously but only manipulated through proxies, namely, the agar concentration and the drying time of "soft" agar plates (swarming plates). We contend that this not only obscures the biophysical mechanisms underlying swarming but also impedes a full assessment of its clinical and environmental significances. Our results indicate that swarming motility is restricted to a narrow range of high matric water potentials in the three pseudomonads tested (Pseudomonas sp. DSS73, Pseudomonas syringae B728a, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa PA14). The threshold below which no swarming was observed was about –0.45 kPa for the first and about –0.1 kPa for the latter two. Above the threshold, the expansion rate of DSS73 swarms increased exponentially with the matric potential. Mutants deficient in surfactant production were totally or partially unable to expand rapidly on the surface of the agar slab. Our results thus suggest that swarming motility in pseudomonads is restricted to (micro)sites where ambient humidity is very high (relative humidity of >99.99%). The spatiotemporal occurrence of such sites is limited in many types of terrestrial environments.
Original languageEnglish
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)2936-2940
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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