Is quorum sensing a side effect of diffusion sensing?

Trends Microbiol. 2002 Aug;10(8):365-70. doi: 10.1016/s0966-842x(02)02400-9.


Many bacteria appear to communicate by releasing and sensing autoinducer molecules, which are believed to function primarily as sensors of population density. However, this quorum-sensing hypothesis rests on very weak foundations, as neither the need for group action nor the selective conditions required for its evolution have been demonstrated. Here, I argue for a more direct function of autoinducer secretion and response - the ability to determine whether secreted molecules rapidly move away from the cell. This diffusion sensing allows cells to regulate secretion of degradative enzymes and other effectors to minimize losses owing to extracellular diffusion and mixing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 4-Butyrolactone / analogs & derivatives*
  • 4-Butyrolactone / metabolism
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Diffusion
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • 4-Butyrolactone