Scientists are trying to work out how bacteria communicate with each other in an effort to combat disease.
Some bacteria need a quorum, the presence of a critical number of individuals, before they can engage in certain activities. Typically these are activities that are only productive when carried out in unison by a community of bacteria, such as bioluminescence
Rahul Kulkarni, assistant professor of physics at Virginia Tech, is modelling the sequence of events that initiate activity in a bacteria colony once it has reached a critical size.
"Now many people realize that other important activities also depend upon a quorum, such as biofilm formation, releasing toxins, or becoming a virulent invader," said Kulkarni.
He is looking at the network of genes involved in this process. "We are trying to understand how changes in the environment are integrated and result in changes in behaviour," he said.
What he learns about this communication process, known as quorum sensing, could one day help scientists prevent a broad range of diseases caused by bacteria. Kulkarni explained: “Biofilms make bacteria resistant to antibiotics, so preventing the formation of biofilms or short-circuiting bacteria’s ability to become virulent by disturbing their communication network so they remain harmless, is an alternative strategy to controlling disease."