Cells of undomesticated species of Bacillus subtilis frequently form complex colonies during spreading on agar surfaces. Given that menaquinone is involved in another form of coordinated behavior, namely, sporulation, we looked for a possible role for menaquinone in complex colony development (CCD) in the B. subtilis strain NCIB 3610. Here we show that inhibition of menaquinone biosynthesis in B. subtilis indeed abolished its ability to develop complex colonies. Additionally some mutations of B. subtilis which confer defective CCD could be suppressed by menaquinone derivatives. Several such mutants mapped to the dhb operon encoding the genes responsible for the biosynthesis of the iron siderophore, bacillibactin. Our results demonstrate that both menaquinone and iron are essential for CCD in B. subtilis.
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