Molecule that sparks the formation of bacterial community unveiled

December 23rd, 2008 - 6:12 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Dec 23 (ANI): Scientists have found that a single molecule, known as surfactin, triggers isolated bacteria to suddenly aggregate into intricately structured communities called biofilms.

The mechanisms that cause isolated bacteria to suddenly aggregate into a social network was not known as yet, but new insights from the lab of Harvard Medical School microbial geneticist Roberto Kolter reveal previously unknown communication pathways that cause such social phenomenon.

For their study, the researchers used the non-pathogenic Bacillus subtilis as a model organism.

The study, led by Kolter and postdoctoral researcher Daniel Lopez, found a group of natural, soil-based products that trigger communal behaviour in bacteria.

They revealed that biofilm formation begins when surfactin, produced by B. subtilis, along with 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 neighbouring cells to form a quorum. As a result, biofilms form.

The researchers pointed out that it’’s still unclear how biofilm formation benefits the bacteria, and hypothesized that it might be an antibacterial defence 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,” said Kolter.

He added: “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.” (ANI)

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