Bacteria lot smarter than believed

January 19th, 2010 - 4:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 19 (IANS) Bacteria are a lot smarter in complex decision-making than believed, new research says.
Gladys Alexandre, associate professor of biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology at University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT-K), decided to look at Azospirillum brasilense, the more complex soil bacterium than the common bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli)

“As bacteria’s ability to make decisions goes, E. coli is kind of dumb, which makes it easy for researchers to study sensing and information processing — essentially, decision making — in this bacterium,” says Alexandre.

E. coli has only five receptors that direct its decision-making process about movement, while Azospirillum brasilense has 48, making it comparatively easier to detect changes in its environments and make complex decisions regarding where to move.

What scientists have not known and have been unable to study until now is how the individual receptors, by sensing their environment, directly affect bacterial behaviour and ability to adapt to their environment, said a UT-K release.

Alexandre’s study is among the first to isolate and study a receptor in this way. “We see now that bacteria are, in their way, big thinkers, and by knowing how they ‘feel’ about the environment around them, we can look at new and different ways to work with them.”

The discovery is a landmark to fathom the way bacteria respond and adapt to environmental changes, a trait shared by nearly all living things, and it could lead to innovations in fields from medicine to agriculture.

Researchers think that the discovery will open the way to novel drugs and treatments to fight lethal bacteria or to find better ways to use them in farming or other applications.

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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