Ecological role of energy taxis


Motile microorganisms rapidly respond to changes in various physico-chemical gradients by directing their motility to more favorable surroundings. Energy generation is one of the most important parameters for the survival of microorganisms in their environment. Therefore it is not surprising that microorganisms are able to monitor changes in the cellular energy generating processes. The signal for this behavioral response, which is called energy taxis, originates within the electron transport system. By coupling energy metabolism and behavior, energy taxis is fine-tuned to the environment a cell finds itself in and allows efficient adaptation to changing conditions that affect cellular energy levels. Thus, energy taxis provides cells with a versatile sensory system that enables them to navigate to niches where energy generation is optimized. This behavior is likely to govern vertical species stratification and the active migration of motile cells in response to shifting gradients of electron donors and/or acceptors which are observed within microbial mats, sediments and soil pores. Energy taxis has been characterized in several species and might be widespread in the microbial world. Genome sequencing revealed that many microorganisms from aquatic and soil environments possess large numbers of chemoreceptors and are likely to be capable of energy taxis. In contrast, species that have a fewer number of chemoreceptors are often found in specific, confined environments, where relatively constant environmental conditions are expected. Future studies focusing on characterizing behavioral responses in species that are adapted to diverse environmental conditions should unravel the molecular mechanisms underlying sensory behavior in general and energy taxis in particular. Such knowledge is critical to a better understanding of the ecological role of energy taxis.