Myxobacteria are social bacteria that exhibit a complex life cycle culminating in the development of multicellular fruiting bodies. The alignment of rod-shaped myxobacteria cells within populations is crucial for development to proceed. It has been suggested that myxobacteria align due to mechanical interactions between gliding cells and that cell flexibility facilitates reorientation of cells upon mechanical contact. However, these suggestions have not been based on experimental or theoretical evidence. Here we created a computational mass-spring model of a flexible rod-shaped cell that glides on a substratum periodically reversing direction. The model was formulated in terms of experimentally measurable mechanical parameters, such as engine force, bending stiffness, and drag coefficient. We investigated how cell flexibility and motility engine type affected the pattern of cell gliding and the alignment of a population of 500 mechanically interacting cells. It was found that a flexible cell powered by engine force at the rear of the cell, as suggested by the slime extrusion hypothesis for myxobacteria motility engine, would not be able to glide in the direction of its long axis. A population of rigid reversing cells could indeed align due to mechanical interactions between cells, but cell flexibility impaired the alignment. © 2010 by the Biophysical Society.
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