In this video, Bonnie Bassler with Princeton New Jersey, explains an amazing new discovery – that bacteria actually communicate with each other, and once they realize that their numbers are sufficient to carry out their genetic function, they launch into action as a synchronized unit.
Isn’t that just amazing! Who knew bacteria -- single-celled, microscopic organisms – had such sophisticated mechanisms?
As you likely know, bacteria are essential for your good health. They perform numerous vital functions in and on your body, such as:
- Keeping environmental hazards from entering through your skin
- Digesting your food
- Making vitamins
- Educating your immune system to keep bad microbes at bay
Since bacteria are single-celled organisms, they have only one string of DNA. Hence they contain very few genes, which encode the traits they’re supposed to carry out. The way bacteria multiply is by consuming nutrients from their environment, grow to twice their size, and then divide down the middle.
We’ve known for some time that once bacteria reach a critical mass, they can overwhelm your immune system. But no one understood the mechanism behind it, until now.
How Bacteria Communicate With Each Other
They’ve now discovered that bacteria communicate with each other using a chemical language called “quorum sensing.” As it turns out, every type of bacteria make and secrete small molecules. When a bacterium is alone, these molecules simply float away.
But when there’s a large enough group of bacteria, these secreted molecules increase in proportion to the number of bacteria emitting them. When the molecules reach a certain amount, the bacteria can tell how many neighbors it has, and suddenly all the bacteria begin to act as a synchronized group, based on the group behavior programmed into its genes.
But that’s not all. Not only do bacteria communicate in this way between their own species; they’re all “multi-lingual,” and can determine the presence and strength of other bacterial colonies.
Essentially, they can count how many of its own kind there are compared to the amount of another species. They then use that information to decide what tasks to carry out, depending on who’s in a minority and who’s in the majority of any given population of bacteria.
This information can have any number of implications for science and medicine. For example, they’re already working on a new generation of antibiotics that can jam the sensing mechanism of a specific pathogen rather than killing it. They’re also considering creating pro-quorum sensing drugs that can boost the communication between beneficial bacteria to make them operate more efficiently.There may be far more complexity to this picture than what we’re currently seeing. However, the finding is an intriguing one, and may lead to all sorts of new discoveries about how your body works to maintain optimal health.