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Quorum Sensing: Bacterial Communication in Chemical Signals

bacterial communication exists in chemical signals

bacterial communication

Communication is an evolutionary trait that was once thought to be an audio phenomenon used by animals to send signals to each other. Throughout recent decades however the concept of communication has changed drastically to include a number of ways to relay a message to another organism in a species from a variety of methods. The discovery of how bees use communication through dances was one of the first revelations to open the scientific community to other forms of communication outside of vocal expression. As investigation continues into the art and types of communication it is becoming clear that almost all organisms have a means to transmit messages to others in their species through movement, vibrations, chemical signals, sound and electromagnetism. Recent experiments conducted by Dr. Ralf Heermann, a microbiologist from Goethe-University in Frankfurt, has discovered a method of communication between bacteria through chemical signals.

How do bacteria communicate?

acyl homoserine lactone

Although bacteria are incapable to produce audio communications due to a lack of sophisticated biological structure it has been determined that they still possess a “language” which was previously unknown to scientists. The process in which bacteria and other simple organisms communicate is referred to as quorum sensing. It was previously known that bacteria are able to send chemical signals to others in their immediate vicinity using N-acyl homoserine lactones (AHLs) to transmit information. These chemicals are synthesized from enzymes and excreted for other bacteria to receive which appears to alter gene expression in the receptor cells. A mystery remained however in that most bacteria contain the LuxR-type receptor but only a few contain the Lyxl homolog which produces these enzymes. How is it possible then for a community of bacteria to communicate with each other without the ability to create a chemical signal for others?

quorum sensing

This mystery may finally have an answer due to the research conducted by Professor Helge Bode and Dr. Ralf Heermann. The key to this chemical process starts at pyrone synthase (PpyS) which produces alpha-pyrones, specifically photopyrones, to transmit signals which are then received by the LuxR solo receptor (PluR) of another bacteria organism. Photopyrones are catalyzed in a process of biosynthesis which begins from the pyrone synthase (PpyS) which tell nearby bacteria to recognize each other and clump together in a community. It is believed that this process is a defensive mechanism which allows a community of bacterial cells to be less likely to succumb to the immune system of an insect in addition to producing toxins which can kill their victim. The clumping of bacteria produces a biofilm which is typically created out of a an extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) matrix synthesized from extracellular polysachharides, proteins and DNA.

biofilm synthesis

Methods of Communication

The phrase “communication is key” is one which many individuals have been reinforced to believe throughout high school, college and at the workplace. This ideology appears to hold true for not only humans, but most forms of life on Earth. It was once thought that single celled organisms did not have the capability to communicate with each other and only organisms with higher intelligence had this capability. Throughout recent decades however it is becoming more and more apparent that plants, bacteria and even single celled organisms do possess the ability to transmit signals to others in their community to help them achieve a variety of goals. Communication methods discovered to date include audio, chemical, electromagnetic, vibration, visual and many others. As the scientific community continues to explore the natural world it is possible that some currently unimaginable methods of communication exist outside of the current realm of human speculation.

bacterial biofilm

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