Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology, Chair, Department of Molecular Biology
"Tiny Conspiracies: Cell-to-Cell Communication in Bacteria"
Abstract: Bacteria are tiny ancient organisms. Harmful bacteria have the capacity to kill humans, animals, and plants, while beneficial bacteria play vital roles in keeping humans, animals, and plants alive. How do bacteria do it? They are so small yet they carry out such big jobs. The answer is that bacteria work in groups: They communicate, count their numbers, and act as collectives. Bacteria communicate with one another using 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 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, biofilm formation, and the exchange of DNA. Current biomedical research is focused on development of therapies to interfere with quorum sensing. Such therapies could be used to combat bacterial pathogenicity.
Host: Hoekstra Lab
Co-sponsored by Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Molecular and Cellular Biology, and the Harvard Museum of Natural History