Spatiotemporal Self-Organization of Fluctuating Bacterial Colonies.
We model an enclosed system of bacteria, whose motility-induced phase separation is coupled to slow population dynamics. Without noise, the system shows both static phase separation and a limit cycle, in which a rising global population causes a dense bacterial colony to form, which then declines by local cell death, before dispersing to re-initiate the cycle. Adding fluctuations, we find that static colonies are now metastable, moving between spatial locations via rare and strongly nonequilibrium pathways, whereas the limit cycle becomes almost periodic such that after each redispersion event the next colony forms in a random location. These results, which hint at some aspects of the biofilm-planktonic life cycle, can be explained by combining tools from large deviation theory with a bifurcation analysis in which the global population density plays the role of control parameter.