Light helps bacteria make important lifestyle decisions

Trends Microbiol. 2011 Sep;19(9):441-8. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2011.05.002. Epub 2011 Jun 12.


Until recently, bacterial responses to changes in light environments were regarded as specialized adaptations in a small number of phototrophs. However, the genomes of many photosynthetic and chemotrophic bacteria not known to have photophysiological responses also encode photoreceptor proteins. What new trends in the biological responses triggered by these photoreceptors are emerging? Here, we review several instances where members of different blue-light receptor classes (LOV, BLUF and PYP) photoregulate a lifestyle choice between the motile single-cellular state and the multicellular surface-attached community state (biofilm) by a range of mechanisms including bacterial two-component systems, the second messenger cyclic di-GMP and direct interactions of photoreceptors with transcription factors. We also discuss how 'seeing' helps some pathogenic bacteria make another important choice, i.e. between environmental and host-associated lifestyles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacteria / radiation effects*
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena
  • Bacterial Proteins / genetics
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Biofilms / radiation effects
  • Light
  • Photoreceptors, Microbial / genetics
  • Photoreceptors, Microbial / metabolism*


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Photoreceptors, Microbial