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- The History, Biochemistry, and Potential of Quorum Sensing

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The History, Biochemistry, and Potential of Quorum Sensing

Greg Steinberg
The Pennsylvania State University
State College, Pennsylvania 16801


Until the 1970s, bacteria have always been considered to act independently of a population. They were thought only to respond to chemical and physical signals such as concentrations and temperatures. Until recently, cell-to-cell communication was never thought plausible in simple prokaryotes, and was strictly a mechanism of higher level organisms. However, in 1972 it was shown that the marine bacteria Photobacterium fischeri exhibited bioluminescence only when in high cell concentrations (2). It was deduced that the cells are able to sense the overall cell population, and the bioluminescent phenotype was expressed once a necessary cell density was reached. Originally called auto-induction, quorum sensing (QS) is the term used to describe cell-to-cell communication in bacteria. Many bacteria have been show to “see and socialize” within a population (and even across species!). By recognizing cells around them, bacteria are able to coordinate phenotype expression under density-dependent conditions. The studies of these systems continually show that QS is widespread among most, if not all bacteria. QS seems to be an important control factor for antibiotic resistance, virulence factors, and metabolite production, and is now being targeted for prophylactic use in medicine, as well as an efficiency module for numerous industries.

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