Talking bacteria article

Talking bacteria article - (Holloway, M. Scientific...

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(Holloway, M. Scientific American ; Feb2004, Vol. 290 Issue 2, p34-35.) Section: Insights Talking Bacteria Microbes seem to talk, listen and collaborate with one another--fodder for the truly paranoid It is far too early in the morning, and Bonnie L. Bassler is charging across the Princeton University campus, incandescent purple coat flying, brown curls bouncing, big laugh booming. She has come directly from the aerobics class she teaches every morning at 6:15--"I get up at exactly 5:42, not a minute earlier, not a minute later," she says emphatically. She says most things with similar energy, and when the conversation turns to her work, she becomes, impossibly, even more dynamic. "I am not meant to be stopped in time," she laughs. "I am supposed to be a blur." The 41-year-old Bassler--a professor of molecular biology, winner of a 2002 MacArthur Foundation genius award, and occasional actress, dancer and singer-studies bacteria and how they communicate among their own kind and with other species. Quorum sensing, as this phenomenon is called, is a young science. Until recently, no one thought bacteria talked to one another, let alone in ways that changed their behavior, and Bassler has been instrumental in the field's rapid ascension. She has figured out some of the dialects--the genetic and molecular mechanisms different species use-but is best known for identifying what might be a universal language all species share, something she has jokingly referred to as "bacterial Esperanto." As its moniker suggests, quorum sensing describes the ways in which bacteria determine how many of them there are in the vicinity. If enough are present (a quorum), they can get down to business or up to mischief. For instance, millions of bioluminescent bacteria might decide to emit light simultaneously so that their host, a squid, can glow--perhaps to distract predators and escape. Or salmonella bacteria might wait until their hordes have amassed before releasing a toxin to sicken their host; if the bacteria had acted as independent assassins rather than as an army, the immune system most likely would have wiped them out. Researchers have shown that bacteria also use quorum sensing to form the slimy biofilms that cover your teeth and eat through ship hulls and to regulate reproduction and the formation of spores. If it all holds up, the implications are enormous. Quorum sensing offers a way to think about evolution. Perhaps early bacteria communicated, then organized themselves according to different functions and, ultimately, into complex organisms. More practically, quorum sensing provides a strategy for medicine: muck up the communication system of dangerous bacteria, such as antibiotic-resistant enterococcus, and perhaps the bugs can't so effectively orchestrate their assault. As Bassler puts it, "You can either make them deaf or you can
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This note was uploaded on 10/06/2011 for the course MICRO 310 taught by Professor Joancunnick during the Spring '11 term at Iowa State.

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Talking bacteria article - (Holloway, M. Scientific...

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