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A matter of density, not quantity
Date:7/10/2009

This release is available in German.

Infections of wounds, pneumonia, etc. in hospitals in particular are often caused by bacteria called Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Once they reach a certain density, colonies of Pseudomonas aeruginosa produce virulence factors and can enter into a slimy state, a biofilm, which prevents antibiotics from penetrating. The process of quorum sensing, which cells use to "sense" cell density, is triggered when the concentration of certain signaling compounds generated by the bacteria reaches a threshold level. A team working with Rustem F. Ismagilov at the University of Chicago has now demonstrated that the absolute number of cells is irrelevant; only the number of bacteria in a given volume plays a role. As the researchers report in the journal Angewandte Chemie, they were even able to trigger quorum-sensing processes in single cells when these were confined in extremely small volumes.

The term, quorum sensing, is derived from the Latin quorum; in politics, this is the number of votes that must be cast for an election or referendum to be valid. In biology, quorum sensing is defined as a process by which cells are able to detect the accumulation of a released signal and then change their behavior when the signal concentration exceeds a threshold level. Traditionally, quorum sensing is thought to help microorganisms to coordinate processes that would be inefficient in single cells, such as the formation of biofilms. Quorum sensing can also prevent too many bacteria from colonizing too small an area. However, the work of Ismagilov's team has shown that quorum sensing is also activated by a single cell if the cell finds itself in an extremely enclosed space, which raises questions as to how quorum-sensing-regulated processes are relevant both to large colonies of cells and to single cells in confined spaces.

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Contact: Rustem F. Ismagilov
r-ismagilov@uchicago.edu
773-702-5816
Wiley-Blackwell
Source:Eurekalert

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