Bacteria communicate with one another using small chemical molecules
that they release into the environment. These molecules travel from
cell to cell and the bacteria have receptors on their surfaces that
allow them to detect and respond to the build up of the molecules.
This process of cell-to-cell communication in bacteria is called
"Quorum Sensing" and it allows bacteria to synchronize behavior on a
population-wide scale. Bacterial behaviors controlled by quorum
sensing are usually ones that are unproductive when undertaken by an
individual bacterium acting alone but become effective when undertaken
in unison by the group. For example, quorum sensing controls
virulence, sporulation, and the exchange of DNA. Thus, quorum sensing
is a mechanism that allows bacteria to function as multi-cellular
organisms. Cell-to-cell communication in bacteria was likely one of
the first steps in the evolution of higher organisms. Current
biomedical research is focused on the development of novel
anti-bacterial therapies aimed at interfering with quorum sensing.
Such therapies could be used to control bacterial pathogenicity.
Bonnie Bassler is a member of the National Academy
of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is a
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and the Squibb Professor
of Molecular Biology at Princeton University. Bassler received a B.S.
in Biochemistry from the University of California at Davis, and a
Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the Johns Hopkins University. She performed
postdoctoral work in Genetics at the Agouron Institute, and she joined
the Princeton faculty in 1994. The research in her laboratory focuses
on the molecular mechanisms that bacteria use for intercellular
communication, called quorum sensing. Dr.Bassler has been awarded
numerous prestigious awards including a MacArthur Foundation
Fellowship and most recently the 2009 Wiley Prize in Biomedical
Science for her paradigm-changing scientific research.
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