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Genes Dev. 2010 Dec 1;24(23):2603-14. doi: 10.1101/gad.1985210.

Dynamics in the mixed microbial concourse.

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  • 1Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Isolated, clonal populations of cells are rarely found in nature. The emergent properties of microbial consortia present a challenge for the systems approach to biology, as chances for competition, communication, or collaboration multiply with the number of interacting agents. This review focuses on recent work on intercourse within biofilms, among quorum-sensing populations, and between cross-feeding metabolic cooperators. New tools from synthetic biology allow microbial interactions to be designed and tightly controlled, creating valuable model systems. We address both natural and synthetic partnerships, with an emphasis on how system behaviors derive from the properties of their components. Essential features of microbial biology arose in the context of a very mixed culture and cannot be understood without unscrambling it.

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