Research

Understanding Cyanobacteria

Cyanobacteria like these at Yellowstone National Park were the first photosynthesizers on Earth.

Over 2 billion years ago, cyanobacteria emerged as Earth’s first photosynthesizing organisms. Today they are widespread and critical contributors to both carbon and nitrogen cycles. Colonies can form large mats, like those pictured above, but, even at the microscale, cyanobacteria are actively forming patterns among individual bacteria. A recent study considers cyanobacteria as active matter.

At the microscopic scale, cyanobacteria form different patterns.
At the microscopic scale, cyanobacteria form different patterns, depending on their density.

By simulating the cyanobacteria as filaments that interact through a series of simple rules, the researchers were able to reproduce the complex patterns bacterial colonies form. Their physical model also offered an explanation — based on the relative importance of advective and diffusive transport — for the characteristic length scales found in the bacterial patterns. (Image credit: Yellowstone – B. Cappellacci, patterns – M. Faluweki et al.; research credit: M. Faluweki et al.; via APS Physics)

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