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: Orb-weaving spiders living in urban areas may be larger

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Water leads to chemical that gunks up biofuels production

18 minutes ago

Trying to understand the chemistry that turns plant material into the same energy-rich gasoline and diesel we put in our vehicles, researchers have discovered that water in the conversion process helps form ...

Restaurants experimenting with pay-in-advance tickets

51 minutes ago

With restaurant patrons increasingly jumping on the Internet to make reservations, some high-end eateries here and across the country are adding a new tech wrinkle: having their clientele pay for their meal in advance using ...

Recommended for you

Orb-weaving spiders living in urban areas may be larger

2 hours ago

A common orb-weaving spider may grow larger and have an increased ability to reproduce when living in urban areas, according to a study published August 20, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Eli ...

Sequencing the genome of salamanders

7 hours ago

University of Kentucky biologist Randal Voss is sequencing the genome of salamanders. Though we share many of the same genes, the salamander genome is massive compared to our own, about 10 times as large.

User comments : 0