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Nat Chem Biol. 2010 Jan;6(1):41-5. doi: 10.1038/nchembio.264. Epub 2009 Nov 22.

Confinement-induced quorum sensing of individual Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

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Department of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA.


It is postulated that in addition to cell density, other factors such as the dimensions and diffusional characteristics of the environment could influence quorum sensing (QS) and induction of genetic reprogramming. Modeling studies predict that QS may operate at the level of a single cell, but, owing to experimental challenges, the potential benefits of QS by individual cells remain virtually unexplored. Here we report a physical system that mimics isolation of a bacterium, such as within an endosome or phagosome during infection, and maintains cell viability under conditions of complete chemical and physical isolation. For Staphylococcus aureus, we show that quorum sensing and genetic reprogramming can occur in a single isolated organism. Quorum sensing allows S. aureus to sense confinement and to activate virulence and metabolic pathways needed for survival. To demonstrate the benefit of confinement-induced quorum sensing to individuals, we showed that quorum-sensing bacteria have significantly greater viability over non-QS bacteria.

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