Emerging morphologies in round bacterial colonies: comparing volumetric versus chemotactic expansion
Biological experiments performed on living bacterial colonies have demonstrated the microbial capability to develop finger-like shapes and highly irregular contours, even starting from an homogeneous inoculum. In this work, we study from the continuum mechanics viewpoint the emergence of such branched morphologies in an initially circular colony expanding on the top of a Petri dish coated with agar. The bacterial colony expansion, based on either a source term, representing volumetric mitotic processes, or a nonconvective mass flux, describing chemotactic expansion, is modeled at the continuum scale. We demonstrate that the front of the colony is always linearly unstable, having similar dispersion curves to the ones characterizing branching instabilities. We also perform finite element simulations, which not only prove the emergence of branching, but also highlight dramatic differences between the two mechanisms of colony expansion in the nonlinear regime. Furthermore, the proposed combination of analytical and numerical analysis allowed studying the influence of different model parameters on the selection of specific patterns. A very good agreement has been found between the resulting simulations and the typical structures observed in biological assays. Finally, this work provides a new interpretation of the emergence of branched patterns in living aggregates, depicted as the results of a complex interplay among chemical, mechanical and size effects.
KeywordsBacteria colony growth Branching instability Bacterial chemotaxis Volumetric growth
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