APR 08, 2017 03:36 PM PDT

Bacteria can Strategically Share Resources

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

A strategic sharing of resources is a common feature of many different kinds of communities, even throughout the animal kingdom. Scientists have now found evidence for sharing among bacterial communities. Reporting in Science, researchers at the University of California San Diego have discovered that if bacterial groups have a limited energy resources, they will alternate times in which the different groups harvest the energy.

Image of two Bacillus subtilis biofilms grown in the same microfluidic chamber. Cyan indicates fluorescence from the membrane potential dye Thioflavin T. / Credit: Jintao Liu, Suel lab, University of California, San Diego

"What's interesting here is that you have these simple, single-celled bacteria that are tiny and seem to be lonely creatures, but in a community, they start to exhibit very dynamic and complex behaviors you would attribute to more sophisticated organisms or a social network," said Süel, Associate Director of the San Diego Center for Systems Biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute - Simons Faculty Scholar at UC San Diego. "It's the same timesharing concept used in computer science, vacation homes and a lot of social applications."

Working in collaboration, molecular biologist Gürol Süel of UC San Diego's Division of Biological Sciences and colleagues from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain observed the behavior of communities of bacteria that had to compete for a limited amount of food. The investigators demonstrated that bacteria are able to devise a timesharing method that alternates feeding periods, thus consuming the resources in the most efficient way for both groups. 

 In the video above, reported in the journal Science by the Süel lab, you can see a time-lapse movie of in-phase oscillations in a pair of Bacillus subtilis biofilms that have been grown together in a microfluidic chamber. The cyan color indicates fluorescence from the membrane potential dye Thioflavin T.

Süel and his team have previously learned that bacteria living in an ordered community called biofilms, utilize electrical signals to communicate with other bacterial species that are nearby; the local bacteria can be recruited into the community. This new study examines the interaction between two biofilm communities. By using mathematical models and data collected in the lab by microfluidic techniques and time-lapse microscopy, the scientists discovered that biofilm communities close to one another engage in synchronized behaviors using the previously described electrical signals. You can see another Süel lab video of the biofilms below showing the oscillations between them.

The biofilms were confronted with scenarios in which they had a limited amount of nutrients; the bacteria then alternated their feeding times. That cooperation stopped any bottlenecks in the drive to consume the resources.

"It is common for living systems to operate in unison, but here we're showing that working out-of-sync can also provide a biological benefit," explained study co-author Jordi Garcia-Ojalvo, a Professor of Systems Biology at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain.

"These bacteria are just about everywhere—from your teeth to soil to drain pipes," said Süel. "It's interesting to think that these simple organisms two billion years ago developed the same timesharing strategy that we humans are now using for all kinds of purposes," he concluded.

 

Sources: Phys.org via UCSD, Science

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
MAY 14, 2018
Microbiology
MAY 14, 2018
Understanding how the Microbiome is Built
Our body usually acts to kill invading microbes. So researchers wanted to know how the gut microbe gets around those defenses....
MAY 25, 2018
Microbiology
MAY 25, 2018
Rise of Antibiotic Resistance Linked to Climate Change
There are several factors blamed for the rise of antibiotic resistance, and now it seems that climate change and population density may play a role....
JUN 07, 2018
Videos
JUN 07, 2018
Nipah Virus Outbreak in India Kills 17
Nipah virus, an emerging infection, was detected recently for the first time in southern India....
JUN 25, 2018
Microbiology
JUN 25, 2018
Gut Microbes Linked to Development of Liver Disease
The bacteria that live in our gut release compounds that might act as biomarkers, and may be a part of disease development....
JUL 12, 2018
Microbiology
JUL 12, 2018
The World's Oldest Colors
In this work, the importance of algae to complex food chains was highlighted....
JUL 17, 2018
Microbiology
JUL 17, 2018
Understanding how Microbes Will Accelerate Climate Change
As permafrost starts to thaw out, it's exposing untold numbers of new bacteria, which can spew out methane....
Loading Comments...