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Trends Microbiol. 2011 Mar;19(3):105-13. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2010.12.007. Epub 2011 Jan 14.

When microbial conversations get physical.

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Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Michigan State University, 6190 Biomedical & Physical Science Building, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.


It is widely accepted that microorganisms are social beings. Whereas communication via chemical signals (e.g. quorum sensing) has been the focus of most investigations, the use of physical signals for microbial cell-cell communication has received only limited attention. In this Opinion article, I postulate that physical modes of microbial communication could be widespread in nature. This is based on experimental evidence on the microbial emission and response to three physical signals: sound waves, electromagnetic radiation and electric currents. These signals propagate rapidly, and even at very low intensities, they provide useful mechanisms when a rapid response is required. I also make some suggestions for promising future research avenues that could provide novel and unsuspected insights into the physical nature of microbial signaling networks.

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