Although unicellular, bacteria are highly interactive and employ a range of cell-to-cell communication or 'quorum sensing (QS)' systems for promoting collective behaviour within a population. QS is generally considered to facilitate gene expression only when the population has reached a sufficient cell density and depends on the synthesis of small molecules that diffuse in and out of bacterial cells. As the bacterial population density increases, so does the synthesis of QS signal molecules and consequently, their concentration in the external environment increases. Once a critical threshold concentration is reached, a target sensor kinase or response regulator is activated, so facilitating the expression of QS-dependent target genes. Several chemically distinct families of QS signal molecules have been described, of which the N-acylhomoserine lactone (AHL) family in Gram-negative bacteria have been the most intensively investigated. QS contributes to environmental adaptation by facilitating the elaboration of virulence determinants in pathogenic species and plant biocontrol characteristics in beneficial species as well as directing biofilm formation and colony escape. QS also crosses the prokaryotic-eukaryotic boundary in that QS signal molecules influence the behaviour of eukaryotic organisms in both the plant and mammalian worlds such that QS signal molecules may directly facilitate bacterial survival by promoting an advantageous lifestyle within a given environmental niche.