Quorum sensing and the confusion about diffusion

Trends Microbiol. 2012 Dec;20(12):586-94. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2012.09.004. Epub 2012 Oct 18.


Two hypotheses, termed quorum sensing (QS) and diffusion sensing (DS), have been suggested as competing explanations for why bacterial cells use the local concentration of small molecules to regulate numerous extracellular behaviours. Here, we show that: (i) although there are important differences between QS and DS, they are not diametrically opposed; (ii) empirical attempts to distinguish between QS and DS are misguided and will lead to confusion; (iii) the fundamental distinction is not between QS and DS, but whether or not the trait being examined is social; (iv) empirical data are consistent with both social interactions and a role of diffusion; (v) alternate hypotheses, such as efficiency sensing (ES), are not required to unite QS and DS. More generally, work in this area illustrates how the use of jargon can obscure the underlying concepts and key questions.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / drug effects*
  • Quorum Sensing*