The zombies of Boston » « Oregon or bust A good talk about your bacterial nature TED talks are rather mixed in quality, but this is a good one: Bonnie Bassler talking about bacteria, bacterial communication, and even squid. Of course, even the squid are vehicles for culturing bacteria… Share this:PrintEmailShare on TumblrTweet The zombies of Boston » « Oregon or bust
Squids could also be used as vehicles for deep-sea exploration too.
Glen Davidson says
We must serve bacteria, rather than cephalopods?
Saw this over at Carl Zimmer’s blog and my comment there was:
I am halfway through reading “Microcosm: E. coli And The New Science of Life” and I am enjoying it and learning as I read.
This is a very good book, terrific research. Thanks Carl.
Bassler’s talk is fascinating. Anti-quorum sensing molecule – not quite a catchy name though. (antiquosmole? and proquosmole?)
She has a more extensive (and also very good) online lecture in the ASCB iBio series too.
Thanks, PZ. I’ve been frustrated in the past by the uneven quality of TED lectures. Didn’t want to take the time to wade through them in order to find the gold. So, if you’ll continue to waste your time wading through them, and alert me when you filter out some gold, that’ll be good.
Very interesting… Even for a layman who knows little of biology.
Her kudos to her young staff at the end reminds me of a few trips to Washington I took to lobby against “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Our senators and congressmen maybe fossils but their staffs are run mostly by people in their twenties and thirties.
Jim Bob Cooter says
I like that she presented the idea of bacteria as multi-cellular organisms. I think we’ve been thinking of bacteria as single-celled organism for too long, restricting our view of how they work. It’s a mistake, I think, to say that all the bacteria in a colony are the same; of course the bacteria that are adhering to a surface are differentiated from the bacteria sitting on top soaking up radiation or fighting with other species.
I also really enjoyed her opening. People hearing about those kinds of numbers of bacteria on them always makes them so squeamish. Of course it’s easy for there to be an order of magnitude more bacteria on and in you than your own cells because they are two orders of magnitude smaller.
I like to tell people that well over half the dry weight of human feces is bacteria, and then I like to wonder why I have so few friends.
Friday Fried Bacon Day tomorrow!
And tons of it . . .
As I understand it, E.coli is one of bacteria types that helps us digest food, but can also poison us. Can someone explain how this works? (Assuming that I have the facts straight in the first place.) Does it have anything to do with the things Dr. Bassler was discussing?
Wonderfully fascinating, btw.
interesting. Maybe one day we can use this “language” to force bacteria to do good stuff.
Jim Bob Cooter says
Eric, it doesn’t really have anything to do with quorum sensing specifically. Different strains of E. coli (and all bacteria) have different virulence factors. These can be toxins, somatic (surface proteins), flagellar, or capsular. So for example, E. coli O157:H7, which is the one that’s bad for you, has a somatic virulence factor O157 and a flagellar virulence factor H7 that your body reacts very strongly to. Other strains have different virulence factors that are not quite as vicious.
Speaking of SQUIDs, PZ have you seen this site: http://tinyurl.com/cnscex – lots of fodder for future Friday Cephalopod postings.
Marc Abian says
Quorum quenchers is what the hip young things in the microbiological circles are going with.
There’s one cool bacteria that I came across before that secretes a molecule which degrades the quorum sensors of another bacterial species and then use the resulting degraded molecules as a food source.
I haven’t seen the video, but I don’t like that way of thinking. Certainly they are communities and the communicate and subject to micro-environments, but they are NOT a mutli-cellular organism and it’s misguiding to think like they are.
uncle frogy says
Bonnie Bassler’s study and discovery of bacterial communication has profound implications about the nature of life on earth. Most amazing, like in so many other areas it seems that the more we study and learn about the nature of things the distinct boundaries that seem so apparent so obvious at first glance seem to blur and change in ways that are both surprising and so simple that we say of course why did we not see that before?
thanks for finding this I saw a Nova doc about her and her work some time ago very impressive.
Jim Bob @#11
Benny the Icepick says
I have to say, I was even more impressed with how simple and accessible her language was than I was with the content itself. For someone to be able to take a complex and highly advanced concept like this and boil it down so some schmo like myself could understand it is a sign of a great educator.
Thanks for sharing, PZ.
Mexican atheist says
Wow, I liked this video a lot. Kind of proofs that when basic science is supported, it can lead you to great things.
Rosie Redfield says
There’s another (simpler) hypothesis about why bacteria secrete and sense these little molecules – that the bacteria aren’t talking to each other but sensing the diffusion properties of their local microenvironments. This is directly adaptive because many bacteria obtain most of their food by secreting expensive degradative enzymes, a strategy that’s only worthwhile when the enzymes won’t diffuse away.
In contrast, the evolution of quorum sensing requires what is basically group selection. It’s not that group selection is impossible, but it shouldn’t be invoked unless more direct selective forces have been ruled out.
She’s an incredible speaker.
It occurs to me to wonder how much poorer we’d be if she had taken that talent and become a preacher.
This is very interesting and very accessible to anyone with a modicum of scientific curiosity. Something new for me to geek out about today. And I agree, she really is an excellent speaker.
Excuse my ignorance, but the hypochondriac in me would like to know how far along the work is on this new generation of anti-biotics based on anti-quorum sensing molecules, anyone here know?
Emmet, OM says
It was an excellent talk: informative, interesting, and extraordinarily well-presented.
I wasn’t sure I had time to watch this, but am sure glad that I did! That was cool – thanks for the link!
Marc Abian says
What about all the times it’s used to induce things which aren’t anything to do with diffusion? And even when we’re talking diffusion, what about the situation where the bacteria won’t try to infect a plant cell without sufficient numbers because that would cause the plant to start activating its defences and not be killed.
Also consider cases where diffusion is constant and the population’s growing. The quorum sensing threshold won’t be reached until the numbers increase.
The Tim Channel says
Hot science chick alert!!!
The Tim Channel: “Hot science chick alert!!!”
I had to watch the video two times. The first time I was too distracted by the lady herself. The hand gestures she makes. The little giggle when she introduces the cephalopod. Intelligence is so sexy.
Nice to hear someone say “bacterium“.
Nice to hear an audience that at least knows of Esperanto.
But now I’m sad that I am indeed too old to ever make a mark in science.
Louise Van Court says
What an interesting talk! Bassler speaks very rapidly and throws out a lot of information quickly, but it is well articulated and enjoyable to listen to. I also liked how she gave a tribute to the twenty-somethings working behind the scene with her. She doesn’t seem arrogant at all, a good science spokesperson.
Jim Bob Cooter says
” they are NOT a mutli-cellular organism and it’s misguiding to think like they are.”
True, they’re not really multicellular, but thinking of them on those terms occasionally – that is, as a whole instead of on an individual level, not necessarily as one single organism – can shed new light on some interesting problems with the way we look at bacteria. Individual differentiation within a population just gets my motor going.
Wow! What a great talk! I was subbing in middle school biology class last week and one of the students said “That’s gross! How can we eat cheese with bacteria in it without dying!” Now I’ve got more ammo to gross out my students!
But seriously, this is a great idea starter: bacteria have ways of speaking to members of their own species and a different way of speaking to other species. These control methods change behavior, and give a powerful survival advantage to the individuals.
So, what’s the difference between that and multi-cellularity? Seems to me, it’s just some glue and the number of control mechanisms. Once those are thrown in, you’ve got sponges, and a wonderful start to more complicated animals like ourselves, with more complicated differentiation.
The more we look, the more we find. Isn’t that way better than telling ourselves we already know the answer?
Brilliant. Just brilliant. Damn, I wish I could teach like that. And I’m in awe of the science.
Thanks for Pharyngula.
I’m relatively naive (and generally apathetic) about the subtleties of evolutionary theory, but wouldn’t concepts like ‘group selection’ become rather distorted when talking about bacteria that primarily clone themselves? When the entire population has the same set of DNA, there can’t really be natural selection at the level of the individual. The driving force of ‘kin selection’ becomes 100%, and how then is it to be distinguished from ‘group selection’?
As I watched this awesome vid, I was wondering; what if we had a few dozen people like her in our Congress??
How exciting! I was actually playing a bit of Tetris as I listened to this, until I heard the magic words: Vibrio fischeri! I just finished up a science fair project on that bacterium (using the bioluminescence as an assay to see if local water supplies were polluted with harmful chemicals). I never knew the squid (Euprymna scolopes) had such a complex mechanism for dealing with the bacteria.
As for the research itself…brilliant! (Funnily enough, my mom–she helped me with the project–noticed that the bacteria didn’t glow until several days of growth.) The quorum molecules were cool enough, but the glimmer of new antibiotics on the horizon, especially ones not likely to promote resistance, is simply amazing!
I do love TED talks.
Rosie Redfield says
If an entire population had identical DNA, and competed only with other pure populations, then selection would indeed always be at the level of the group/population. But real bacterial populations are rarely clonal, and even colonies on an agar plate contain mutations that arose within the ‘clone’. Because all mutations arise in single cells within populations, individual selection is the norm in bacteria as in everything else.
Finally had the chance to watch this video. I found it endlessly fascinating. The mechanism in the squid to basically eliminate its shadow? That is so cool!
That was great. Thanks. TED is always best when it’s scientists talking about their research or artists talking about their art. It’s at its worst when they have someone from the silicon valley crowd musing on either subject.
Jim Bob Cooter says
Sure, a polymorphism will occur in one bacteria within a colony, but then the new strain will either out-compete or be out-competed and either die quickly or replace the colony…so when you’re looking for that mutation, you’re not going to get a sequence for one bacterium, always a consensus for a colony. While you’re right technically, for all practical purposes selection is colony-wide.
And if an individual bacterium incurred a mutation which allowed it to produce a quorum sensing molecule, and lived long enough to reproduce for a few generations, I find it entirely possible that the benefits of the molecules, whether it is quorum sensing or diffusion sensing, would allow that new strain to thrive. In other words I don’t think the evolution of quorum sensing requires group evolution…just a forgiving competitive environment.
Oh so adorable and smart. Great research too!
North of 49 says
Thanks for posting that magnificent thing, PZ.
I love it when an idea comes along that takes everything you thought you knew about the world and turns it ninety degrees through all three axes. It’s a sensation that feels like tectonic plates shifting under the feet, as the brain shifts into high gear just trying to catalogue the implications — speculative thought-structures building and branching like crystals in a supersaturated solution. (Didn’t see God, though.)
One minor downer, though: I can just see this concept showing up in various sorts of woo at some point, along the lines of “bacteria got feelings!”, or “bacteria got minds!” or the latest woo-buzz “bacteria got Intention!!”. Imagine the Everything-Is-Connected crowd going ga-ga over the idea that the Global Consciousness is now ten times bigger than we thought. !!!!
One woo I can think of right off the top: some sharpie will riff off Matsuro Emoto’s magic water and claim that the positive vibrations of intention with which it is imbued will act as quorum-enhancers for the “good” bacteria and — naturally — remove toxins and cure cancer. The rubes will eat it up.