Abstract: Series 100, Lecture 5

The Harvey Lectures Series 100 (2004—2005)

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Lecture #5: Thursday, March 17, 2005 — Time and Location

Tiny Conspiracies: Cell-to-Cell Communication in Bacteria

Bonnie L Bassler, PhD

Professor of Molecular Biology
Department of Molecular Biology

Princeton University

Princeton, New Jersey

Quorum sensing is a process of bacterial cell-to-cell communication involving production and detection of extracellular signaling molecules called autoinducers. Quorum sensing allows populations of bacteria to collectively control gene expression, and thus synchronize group behavior. Processes controlled by quorum sensing are typically ones that are unproductive unless many bacteria act together. Quorum sensing confuses the distinction between prokaryotes and eukaryotes because it allows bacteria to behave as multi-cellular organisms, and to reap benefits that would be unattainable to them as individuals. Recent studies show that highly specific as well as universal quorum sensing molecules exist which enable bacteria to communicate within and between species. Research from my lab is aimed at providing new insights into novel mechanisms of intra- and inter-cellular signal transmission, intra- and inter-species communication and the evolution of multi-cellular organisms. Additionally, one long-term hope is that this work will lead to practical applications such as the design of anti-microbial drugs aimed at bacteria that use quorum sensing to control virulence.