Bacteria Communicate through Nanotubes not just through Quorum Sensing – questions for Soil Microbial Pathogens?

This is very interesting. Back in 2009 I made a post on the pioneering bacteria quorum sensing work of Dr. Bonnie Bassler and her team at Princeton University over the past decade. I’m reprinting that post and video here as an introduction to some startling new discoveries on bacterial communication.

“Here’s fascinating presentation at TED by Dr. Bonnie Bassler, Princeton University, posted in April 2009. Over the past several years Bassler and her team discovered that bacteria “talk” to each other. They do this by using a chemical language that lets each bacteria species coordinate defense and mount attacks when their specific species numbers relative to other bacterial species give them an edge. This has implications for how we understand disease causing bacteria in our soils and on our plant surfaces. We often think we have to kill, using pesticides, all soil or foliar disease or pathogenic microbes. Its not that we have to eradicate the pathogens but rather suppress them from expressing diseases in our plants by keeping their numbers low relative to the non-pathogenic bacteria. We have to increase the good-guy microbial numbers. Bassler’s work points to how pathogenic bacteria are scanning their environment, seeing how many of their specific species are around and how many of the other total bacterial species exist. Only when the specific pathogenic bacteria species has a chance to be successful relative to the larger bacterial numbers, will it “switch on” and attempt to take over.”

So back to the present…. From Science Daily, March 2, 2010:

“A pathway whereby bacteria communicate with each other has been discovered by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The discovery has important implications for efforts to cope with the spread of harmful bacteria in the body.

Bacteria are known to communicate in nature primarily via the secretion and receipt of extracellular signaling molecules, said Prof. Sigal Ben-Yehuda of the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) at the Hebrew University Faculty of Medicine, head of the research team on the phenomenon, whose work is currently reported in the journal Cell. This communication enables bacteria to execute sophisticated tasks such as dealing with antibiotic production and secretion of virulence factors.

Ben-Yehuda’s group identified a previously uncharacterized type of bacterial communication mediated by nanotubes that bridge neighboring cells. The researchers showed that these nanotubes connect bacteria of the same and different species. Via these tubes, bacteria are able to exchange small molecules, proteins and even small genetic elements (known as plasmids).

This mechanism can facilitate the acquisition of new features in nature, such as antibiotic resistance. In this view, gaining a better molecular understanding of nanotube formation could lead to the development of novel strategies to fight against pathogenic bacteria, said Ben-Yehuda.”

Doug here again – There’s a lot of focus on bacterial communication for the control of pathogen and implications for human health, whether it be quorum sensing or nanotube cytoplasm exchange. These mechanisms, at least Dr. Bassler has said about Quorum Sensing, are ubiquitous across all bacteria species. That would include soil bacteria. So does nanotube cytoplasm exchange occur amongst soil bacteria? If so, does this point to more ways pathogenic bacteria communicate to give their virulence outbreaks a fighting chance. The work of plant disease suppression of well made composts since the mid-seventies has pointed out that plant diseases aren’t necessarily a problem until the disease causing organism has enough numbers to make a successful go of it. Quorum Sensing and perhaps now nanotube cytoplasm exchange are giving a us a window into exactly how the bacteria communicate and coordinate their species efforts. This seems to point again to the importance of how we as farmers and ranchers need to stack the deck with as many beneficial microbes as possible (making good aerobic compost anyone) so they become the loudest and most frequent talkers in our microscopic soil caverns.


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