Nav: Home

Microcensus in bacteria

March 05, 2020

Bacteria can perceive how many they are. They release and sense signaling molecules that accumulate with increasing cell numbers, which allows them to change their behavior when a certain group size is reached. A team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg and Heidelberg University has now been able to show that bacteria might be capable of even more: they could perceive the proportions of different groups of bacteria in their environment.

In nature, bacteria often live in complex communities, surrounded by other cells that can differ from each other, even within a species. The principal investigator, Ilka Bischofs, explains: "Imagine yourself in a ballroom full of people. Their sheer number is only of limited relevance to you; it is the gender ratio that tells you how hard it will be to find a dancing partner. Bacteria also collect information about their environment. Information about group ratios could help them make decisions and adapt in the best possible way."

The research team studied information retrieval in the bacterium Bacillus subtilis. This species possesses a large number of identically constructed chemical signaling systems that were previously thought to measure cell numbers. Instead the bacteria may utilize these systems to determine the proportions of different groups within a mixed population. The respective signaling molecules are often produced by a subset of cells, but are taken up by all bacteria. Therefore, cells compete with each other for the signaling molecules. The larger the ratio of signal producers in the population, the more signaling molecules will accumulate in the cells where they are being detected. However, as with computers, the specific function of a system depends on its settings.

The research team was able to show experimentally that at least the exemplarily investigated bacterial signal system is indeed correctly configured for facilitating ratio-sensing. Using high-resolution methods of flurorescence microscopy (Förster Resonance Energy Transfer, FRET), they analysed the signal transduction in detail.

The ratio-sensing ability could confer decisive advantages to the bacterium. As research in recent years has shown, Bacillus subtilis often splits its population into subgroups of cells with different properties and functions. Similar to a stock broker, the bacterium diversifies its portfolio of phenotypes. Knowing the composition of a portfolio obviously enables to respond adequately to environmental changes - a strategy that bacteria may have already discovered during evolution.
-end-
Original Publication

Babel, H., Naranjo-Meneses, P., Trauth, S. et al.
Ratiometric population sensing by a pump-probe signaling system in Bacillus subtilis.
Nature Communications volume 11, Article number: 1176 (2020)
https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-14840-w

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

Related Bacteria Articles:

Bacteria might help other bacteria to tolerate antibiotics better
A new paper by the Dynamical Systems Biology lab at UPF shows that the response by bacteria to antibiotics may depend on other species of bacteria they live with, in such a way that some bacteria may make others more tolerant to antibiotics.
Two-faced bacteria
The gut microbiome, which is a collection of numerous beneficial bacteria species, is key to our overall well-being and good health.
Microcensus in bacteria
Bacillus subtilis can determine proportions of different groups within a mixed population.
Right beneath the skin we all have the same bacteria
In the dermis skin layer, the same bacteria are found across age and gender.
Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.
How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.
The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?
Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.
Bacteria uses viral weapon against other bacteria
Bacterial cells use both a virus -- traditionally thought to be an enemy -- and a prehistoric viral protein to kill other bacteria that competes with it for food according to an international team of researchers who believe this has potential implications for future infectious disease treatment.
Drug diversity in bacteria
Bacteria produce a cocktail of various bioactive natural products in order to survive in hostile environments with competing (micro)organisms.
More Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.