Small molecule triggers bacterial community

Dec 22, 2008

While bacterial cells tend to be rather solitary individuals, they are also known to form intricately structured communities called biofilms. But until now, no one has known the mechanisms that cause isolated bacteria to suddenly aggregate into a social network. New insights from the lab of Harvard Medical School microbial geneticist Roberto Kolter reveal previously unknown communication pathways that cause such social phenomenon.

Using the non-pathogenic Bacillus subtilis as a model organism, Kolter and postdoctoral researcher Daniel Lopez discovered a group of natural, soil-based products that trigger communal behavior in bacteria. One molecule in particular, surfactin, is produced by B. subtilis. Biofilm formation begins when surfactin, and other similar molecules, cause bacteria to leak potassium. As potassium levels decline, a membrane protein on the bacterium stimulates a cascade of gene activity that signals neighboring cells to form a quorum. As a result, biofilms form.

The authors note that it's still unclear how biofilm formation benefits the bacteria, and they hypothesize that it might be an antibacterial defense against competing species. Still, the notion that a single small molecule can induce multicellularity intrigues the researchers.

"Typically, scientists try to discover new antibiotics through some rather blunt means, like simply looking to see if one bacterium can kill another," says Kolter. "This discovery of a single molecule causing such a dramatic response in bacteria hints at a new and potentially effective way to possibly discover antibiotics."

Source: Harvard Medical School

Explore further: No walk in the park for S. Africa's embattled game rangers

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Iliad founder says T-Mobile offer is 'real'

2 hours ago

French telecom upstart Iliad's founder said Friday that the company's offer for US-based T-Mobile is "real" and that he is open to working with partners on a deal.

Law changed to allow 'unlocking' cellphones

2 hours ago

President Barack Obama signed a bill into law on Friday making it legal once again to unlock a cellphone without permission from a wireless provider, so long as the service contract has expired.

Social network challenges end in tragedy

2 hours ago

Online challenges daring people to set themselves ablaze or douse themselves in ice water are racking up casualties and fueling wonder regarding idiocy in the Internet age.

Microsoft sues Samsung alleging contract breach

2 hours ago

Microsoft on Friday sued Samsung in federal court claiming the South Korean giant had breached a contract over cross-license technology used in the fiercely competitive smartphone market.

Recommended for you

Reptile Database surpasses 10,000 reptile species

7 hours ago

More than 10,000 reptile species have been recorded into the Reptile Database, a web-based catalogue of all living reptile species and classification, making the reptile species among the most diverse vertebrate ...

User comments : 0