At least, that’s the implication of the results of a maze test:
How do the ETH Zurich researchers know this? They constructed a downward sloping maze with either more or less nourishment (chemoattractant) at each junction and most of it at the bottom. Each bacterium (wild Marinobacter adhaerens) had to make an individual decision at each junction.
But they didn’t all go with the stronger smell, as expected. Even genetically identical bacteria (clones) made different decisions which way to go. Those who followed the crowd toward the stronger scent found more food but also more competition; those who took the road less traveled found less of both.
And what does it mean? Well, two things. First, the researchers say, individual behavior may factor in antibiotic resistance: All bacteria won’t respond in the same way even when they have identical chemical makeup. One of them offers, “Non-genetic diversity has long been known in the biomedical life sciences; for example, it is thought to play a role in antibiotic resistance. Now, environmental scientists have shown that this diversity also affects fundamental behaviours of bacteria, such as locomotion and chemotaxis — further expanding the concept of bacterial individuality.” “Even Bacteria Are Purpose-Driven” at Mind Matters
No, this doesn’t mean that bacteria have free will or moral choice. It does mean, as Jonathan Bartlett explains, that the Darwinian effort to drive purpose from nature does not really work. We find purpose in the least promising life forms.
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See also: Is an amoeba smarter than your computer? (about some things, yes)
Can plants be as smart as animals?
Quantum mechanics gives nature free will (Robert J. Marks)