Scientists have created an experimental mixture of two strains of myxobacteria (Myxococcales). In the course of research, they became similar to elements of the painting “Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh.

Microbiologists accidentally turned millions of predatory bacteria into Starry Night by artist Vincent Van Gogh. Such an unexpected result is part of experiments on the genetic circuit that creatures use to distinguish friend from foe.

Myxococcus xanthus has been studied for decades as a model system for social interaction and regulation of bacterial genes. Researchers at Rice University and the University of Wyoming have studied mutating M. xanthus that overexpresses two proteins. They, in turn, are used by cells to recognize close relatives. As a result, scientists discovered a previously unknown behavior in these bacteria: they self-organize in circles with a diameter of a millimeter or more.

M. xanthus are predators and feed on other bacteria. Having no internal organs to digest their prey, they unite in family “flocks” to devour and devour prey, which may include M. xanthus, who are not related to the group. In previous studies, scientists have found that it uses the TraA surface receptor and the TraB protein, which helps bacteria recognize their own. When M. xanthus encounters a close relative, the TraAB complex acts as a kind of glue, forming a sticky bond between the two. When he encounters an unrelated M. xanthus, TraAB helps to poison the “outsiders.”

By studying the mechanism of TraAB, microbiologists have created several mutant strains, including those that overexpressed TraAB, producing more protein than usual, and tend to form within hours. The model mimicked the behavior of M. xanthus based on changes in TraAB and other signaling circuits. When scientists conducted several experiments with model systems, they saw how bacteria became similar to the elements of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night.

The study is described in an article published in the American Society for Microbiology’s mSystems, and an image of the experiment will appear in the next open access issue of the journal.