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QUORUM SENSING: Cell-to-Cell Communication In Bacteria

Christopher M. Waters, Bonnie L. Bassler

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Bacteria communicate with one another using chemical signal molecules. As in higher organisms, the information supplied by these molecules is critical for synchronizing the activities of large groups of cells. In bacteria, chemical communication involves producing, releasing, detecting, and responding to small hormone-like molecules termed autoinducers . This process, termed quorum sensing, allows bacteria to monitor the environment for other bacteria and to alter behavior on a population-wide scale in response to changes in the number and/or species present in a community. Most quorum-sensing-controlled processes are unproductive when undertaken by an individual bacterium acting alone but become beneficial when carried out simultaneously by a large number of cells. Thus, quorum sensing confuses the distinction between prokaryotes and eukaryotes because it enables bacteria to act as multicellular organisms. This review focuses on the architectures of bacterial chemical communication networks; how chemical information is integrated, processed, and transduced to control gene expression; how intra- and interspecies cell-cell communication is accomplished; and the intriguing possibility of prokaryote-eukaryote cross-communication.