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Trends Microbiol. 2010 Feb;18(2):73-80. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2009.12.008. Epub 2010 Jan 7.

Quorum sensing in natural environments: emerging views from microbial mats.

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The Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA.


Much laboratory-based information exists on quorum sensing, a type of bacterial cell-to-cell communication that depends upon exchanges of molecular signals between neighboring cells. However, little is known about how this and other microbial sensing systems operate in nature. Geochemical and biological modifications of signals probably occur in extracellular environments, and these could disrupt intended communication if signals are no longer recognized. However, as we discuss here, signal alterations might result in other outcomes: if a modified signal is able to interact with a different receptor then further environmental information can be gained by the receiving cells. We also postulate that quorum sensing occurs within cell clusters, where signal dispersion might be significantly influenced by extracellular polymers. As a model system to discuss these points we use microbial mats - highly-structured biofilm communities living under sharply-defined, fluctuating geochemical gradients.

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