Rules of engagement: defining bacterial communication

Curr Opin Microbiol. 2012 Apr;15(2):155-61. doi: 10.1016/j.mib.2011.11.007. Epub 2011 Dec 18.


Microbiologists often describe communication as occurring within and between bacterial species and even across the prokaryote-eukaryote divide. In a strictly evolutionary sense, however, communication should occur only rarely between unrelated organisms. Clearly, the microbiological and evolutionary definitions and standards for what qualifies as communication widely differ. In microbiology, the term "communication" is often used to denote any interaction between two organisms. Advancement in knowledge hinges on precise language and conceptual distinctions when introducing new scientific ideas. While terminology exists for describing interactions which are not true communication, excessive preoccupation with semantics may impede progress. Umbrella terms such as 'communication' are useful, but additional insight can be gained by understanding the fitness consequences and adaptive significance of behaviors observed in multispecies communities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Ecosystem
  • Homoserine / analogs & derivatives
  • Homoserine / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lactones / metabolism
  • Quorum Sensing / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Lactones
  • N-octanoylhomoserine lactone
  • Homoserine