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: Corn co-products from wet milling may be included in pig diets, study shows

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers use oxides to flip graphene conductivity

17 minutes ago

Graphene, a one-atom thick lattice of carbon atoms, is often touted as a revolutionary material that will take the place of silicon at the heart of electronics. The unmatched speed at which it can move electrons, ...

NOAA's DSCOVR going to a 'far out' orbit

24 minutes ago

Many satellites that monitor the Earth orbit relatively close to the planet, while some satellites that monitor the sun orbit our star. DSCOVR will keep an eye on both, with a focus on the sun. To cover both ...

Satellite witnesses developing US nor'easter

1 hour ago

National Weather Service forecasters have been tracking a low pressure area that moved from the Midwest into the Atlantic Ocean today, and is expected to become a strong nor'easter that will bring blizzard ...

Engineering self-assembling amyloid fibers

1 hour ago

Nature has many examples of self-assembly, and bioengineers are interested in copying or manipulating these systems to create useful new materials or devices. Amyloid proteins, for example, can self-assemble ...

Recommended for you

A rare glimpse at the elusive saharan cheetah

2 hours ago

Research by scientists and conservationists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Zoological Society of London, and other groups published today in PLOS ONE shows that critically endangered Saharan cheeta ...

In a role reversal, RNAs proofread themselves

2 hours ago

Building a protein is a lot like a game of telephone: information is passed along from one messenger to another, creating the potential for errors every step of the way. There are separate, specialized enzymatic ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.