Microbial metabolic exchange--the chemotype-to-phenotype link

Nat Chem Biol. 2011 Dec 15;8(1):26-35. doi: 10.1038/nchembio.739.


The function of microbial interactions is to enable microorganisms to survive by establishing a homeostasis between microbial neighbors and local environments. A microorganism can respond to environmental stimuli using metabolic exchange-the transfer of molecular factors, including small molecules and proteins. Microbial interactions not only influence the survival of the microbes but also have roles in morphological and developmental processes of the organisms themselves and their neighbors. This, in turn, shapes the entire habitat of these organisms. Here we highlight our current understanding of metabolic exchange as well as the emergence of new technologies that are allowing us to eavesdrop on microbial conversations comprising dozens to hundreds of secreted metabolites that control the behavior, survival and differentiation of members of the community. The goal of the rapidly advancing field studying multifactorial metabolic exchange is to devise a microbial 'Rosetta stone' in order to understand the language by which microbial interactions are negotiated and, ultimately, to control the outcome of these conversations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / chemistry
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Ecosystem
  • Humans
  • Open Reading Frames
  • Phenotype