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Genetic Determinants of Self Identity and Social Recognition in Bacteria

Science, 11 July 2008
Vol. 321, Issue 5886, p. 256-259
DOI: 10.1126/science.1160033

Genetic Determinants of Self Identity and Social Recognition in Bacteria

  1. Karine A. Gibbs1,*,
  2. Mark L. Urbanowski2,*,
  3. E. Peter Greenberg1,
  1. 1 Department of Microbiology, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.
  2. 2 Department of Microbiology, Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242, USA.
  1. To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: epgreen{at}
  • * These authors contributed equally to this work.


The bacterium Proteus mirabilis is capable of movement on solid surfaces by a type of motility called swarming. Boundaries form between swarming colonies of different P. mirabilis strains but not between colonies of a single strain. A fundamental requirement for boundary formation is the ability to discriminate between self and nonself. We have isolated mutants that form boundaries with their parent. The mutations map within a six-gene locus that we term ids for identification of self. Five of the genes in the ids locus are required for recognition of the parent strain as self. Three of the ids genes are interchangeable between strains, and two encode specific molecular identifiers.

    • Received for publication 5 May 2008.
    • Accepted for publication 6 June 2008.


    K. A. Gibbs, M. L. Urbanowski, and E. P. Greenberg, Genetic Determinants of Self Identity and Social Recognition in Bacteria. Science 321, 256-259 (2008).

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