Bacteria Can Sometimes Be Spiteful

By Medscape Staff

September 15, 2022

Bacteria have been found to react vengefully against other colony members when they are not pulling their own weight, according to biologists at Canada's York University. 

What to know:

  • Colonies of bacteria work together by producing chemicals that benefit the colony as a whole and regulate the colony's energy demands depending on the size of the colony's population at any given time.

  • It's costly for bacteria to contribute to their community, and there are cases in which some individuals take what's offered without contributing anything back.

  • The organisms base their production on whether it is essential or merely beneficial for the colony, and adjust their modifications accordingly, using that information to punish those that are freeloading off the others.

  • Cases have been found where bacteria populations commit "evolutionary suicide," refusing to produce enough enzymes to feed themselves in order to take cheater-rich populations down with them.

  • The discovery could have implications for how we fight bacterial infections where antibiotic resistance is provided by biofilms that only some colony members produce.

This is a summary of the article "Cheater suppression and stochastic clearance through quorum sensing," published by PLOS Computational Biology on July 28. The full article can be found on journals.plos.org.

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