Well, get this:
Far from being selfish organisms whose sole purpose is to maximize their own reproduction, bacteria in large communities work for the greater good by resolving a social conflict among individuals to enhance the survival of their entire community.
This part is rubbish, of course:
“It’s an example of what we call ’emergent phenomena’,” explained Gürol Süel, an associate professor of molecular biology at UC San Diego who headed the research effort.
“Emergent phenomena” is an elegant of saying “We don’t know what we are talking about.”
That’s fine, just admit it. Meanwhile:
The conflict is essentially this: Bacteria at the outer edges of the biofilm are the most vulnerable within their community to chemical and antibiotic attacks. At the same time, they also provide protection to the interior cells. But the bacteria at the outer edge are the closest to nutrients necessary for growth. So if they grow unchecked, they can consume all the food and starve the sheltered interior cells.
But that doesn’t happen, because the biofilm develops an ingenious solution to this problem that the scientists call “metabolic codependence.” Essentially, the interior cells produce a metabolite necessary for the growth of the bacteria on the outside. This provides the inner cells with the ability to periodically put the brakes on the growth of outer cells, which otherwise would consume all the food and starve the cells they are protecting from attack. By periodically preventing the growth on the periphery, inner cells ensure that they have sufficient access to nutrients. By keeping the protected inner cells alive, the biofilm has a much higher chance of surviving antibiotic treatment.
This strategy allows bacteria with conflicting needs to take turns, like drivers approaching an intersection from different directions. In many ways, the internal social conflict within bacterial communities is not unlike the conflicts that opposing groups of individuals must find ways to resolve in order to maintain successful nations or communities.
So clearly there is intelligence involved? But will they admit that? If so, we must hope these people have stocked up on No! Troll spray TM.
They can use it, without even having to be nice to us, the developers. 😉
See also: Matching Darwin’s “Tree of Life,” the “Tree of Intelligence”
comes crashing down”
Note: This story was filed under “Animal minds” because we don’t (currently) have a category called Bacteria minds. Should we? Apologies to obsessives everywhere.
Follow UD News at Twitter!