Self-engineering capabilities of bacteria

J R Soc Interface. 2006 Feb 22;3(6):197-214. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2005.0089.


Under natural growth conditions, bacteria can utilize intricate communication capabilities (e.g. quorum-sensing, chemotactic signalling and plasmid exchange) to cooperatively form (self-organize) complex colonies with elevated adaptability-the colonial pattern is collectively engineered according to the encountered environmental conditions. Bacteria do not genetically store all the information required for creating all possible patterns. Instead, additional information is cooperatively generated as required for the colonial self-organization to proceed. We describe how complex colonial forms (patterns) emerge through the communication-based singular interplay between individual bacteria and the colony. Each bacterium is, by itself, a biotic autonomous system with its own internal cellular informatics capabilities (storage, processing and assessment of information). These afford the cell plasticity to select its response to biochemical messages it receives, including self-alteration and the broadcasting of messages to initiate alterations in other bacteria. Hence, new features can collectively emerge during self-organization from the intracellular level to the whole colony. The cells thus assume newly co-generated traits and abilities that are not explicitly stored in the genetic information of the individuals.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Cell Communication / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics*
  • Genetic Engineering / methods
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*