Bacteria arriving later also lay trails, but their movements tend to be guided by the trails from the pioneers. This network of trails creates a process of positive feedback and enables bacteria to organize into micro-colonies that mature into biofilms. By being at the right place at the right time, and by using communally produced polysaccharides, a small number of lucky cells often ones that come later become the first to form micro-colonies. Cells in micro-colonies have many survival advantages over other bacteria.
Interestingly, these biofilms develop in accordance with Zipf's Law, which has been used to describe the phenomenon of a small portion of a population controlling the majority of that population's wealth. "It turns out bacteria do something similar," Wong said. "A small number of bacteria have the best access to the lion's share of communally produced polysaccharides."
Wong said the research may provide insight into how to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. "Typically, when we want to get rid of bacteria, we just kill them with antibiotics," he said. "As a result, they develop defense mechanisms and grow stronger. Maybe that's not always the best way to treat biofilms. Perhaps we can regulate bacterial communities the way we regulate economies. Our work suggests that new treatment options may use incentives and communications, as well as punishment, to control bacterial communities."
Luijten said that the group's findings were possible because the researchers drew knowledge from their various individual disciplines. "O
|Contact: Bill Kisliuk|
University of California - Los Angeles