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Cracking the Code of Bacterial Communication 58

TEDChris writes "Microbiologist Bonnie Bassler explains her discovery of 'quorum sensing' — the amazing ability of bacteria to communicate with each other and coordinate attack strategies (video). By cracking the communication code, she has opened up potential for a new class of drugs tackling microbial diseases. The talk got a massive standing ovation at this year's TED and has just been posted. To quote one commenter: 'This is by far the most inspiring, amazing, and far-reaching talk I've seen in a very long time.'"
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Cracking the Code of Bacterial Communication

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  • One of the leading health concerns is household mold and staph. The inhalation of these over years of exposure leaves the body weakened and infected. In very bad cases it can lead to pneumonia and in the worst case staph infections which lead to amputation.

    If they can find a way to reduce or eliminate bacteria growth in the home, they are halfway to eliminating disease in Western nations.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      And the gateway to an autoimmune pandemic!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Renraku ( 518261 )

      Mold and staph are both very good at entrenching themselves into their environment. They basically form a base layer that they can attach to, and then they're much harder to get out. A good method of attacking mold or staph colonies would be to find something that breaks up their base layer so that they're exposed to the environment. Unfortunately, you need a chemical that can penetrate porous materials easily, and those chemicals don't tend to do well around the home.

      • by Vesvvi ( 1501135 ) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @03:09AM (#27514791)
        The base layer you're referring to is usually termed a "biofilm", and they are complex, three-dimensional, organized structures of living (and some "hibernating") organisms.

        I think the best large-scale analogy to a biofilm would be a rainforest, where there are many levels of depth with complexity that varies depending on where you're looking.

        Chemical penetration through that multi-layered structure is extremely complex, and usually substantially slowed. In many cases even potent chemicals such as bleach won't reach the base layers, despite multiple washings with long incubations.

        It's not really a problem of being restricted only to "nice" chemicals: we haven't found -any- chemicals that act as a magic bullet. Back when I started research in the field it was thought that quorum sensing might be the cure we were looking for, but it turned out to be much less useful than hoped.

        As for the previous comments on Dr. Bassler and her "discoveries", I think people react negatively to exaggerated claims of novelty. If the fault for that those exaggerations lay with TED, then they are being a bit sloppy, but if Bassler herself suggests that she is intellectually dishonest. Her work ~1994 seems to be very highly regarded in establishing the study of quorum sensing, but there are several papers from the years just previous to that which actually discovered it.
        • Seal up the environment, boil chlorine into the air, and let it sit for a few days. Isn't that what the CDC does?

    • by Vesvvi ( 1501135 )
      Bacterial infections aren't even on the radar compared to self-inflicted problems such as obesity.
      • What you are saying would be true if you are only looking at symptoms. Take the common cold for example. You wouldn't say that the viral infection is pretty minor compared to the sneezing and runny nose symptoms, I hope. One is the cause and the other is the symptom. It makes more sense to attack the cause to avoid having to attack symptoms.

        Yes, in the short term, the damage has already been inflicted and symptoms do need to be addressed. However, this doesn't preclude us from also attacking with vigor the

      • Bacterial infections aren't even on the radar compared to self-inflicted problems such as obesity.

        In the West, anyway.

        • by Vesvvi ( 1501135 )
          Yes, sorry, I should have included that caveat.
          From the CDC:
          * Heart disease: 652,091
          * Cancer: 559,312
          * Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 143,579
          * Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 130,933
          * Accidents (unintentional injuries): 117,809
          * Diabetes: 75,119
          * Alzheimer's disease: 71,599
          * Influenza/Pneumonia: 63,001
          * Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 43,901
          * Septicemia: 34,136

          After looking up the numbers, I must admit that it's closer that I was
  • Didn't Orson Scott Card come up with this in Xenocide?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by calcapt ( 975466 )

      I doubt he invented the concept. In the afterward sections of his books, he often talks about how he draws from other sources. I'm pretty sure in one of his books he mentions how he consulted medical workers on plausible scenarios; Card could've simply picked up the idea of communicating via chemicals through such an experience. While the earliest scientific article I can find on quorum sensing, through PubMed and Web of Science, is from 1995, I'm sure the idea of microorganisms communicating through such a

  • by oldhack ( 1037484 ) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @03:06AM (#27514781)

    I read this about bacteria communication as reported in Science News in January: []

    Different researchers are interviewed, though.

  • by gringer ( 252588 ) on Thursday April 09, 2009 @03:29AM (#27514907)

    "Quorum Sensing"... I remember that phrase. It sounds strangely like something we considered putting into our signal transduction paper back in 2004 (published 2006). It was Lisa, not I, who did the reading on quorum sensing, so I can't claim to be well-read in the subject. []

  • From the point of view of an outsider looking in, it looks like this Slashdot story just got bum-rushed by a bunch of brawling microbiologists.

    Is there some big long-running all-in slugfest here that we ought to know about?

    • by lanthar ( 962279 )

      Don't you know that many researchers are credit hogs, who eventually rise to the review level and heavily criticize and turn down proposals of those that might criticize their own work? It's the awful truth about scientific research and grant money. It's like a soap opera.

If it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist.