The importance of accurate demographic information is reflected in the United States Constitution, Article 1, which provides for a decennial census of this country's human population. Bacteria also conduct a census of their population and do so more frequently, more efficiently, and as far we know, with little if any of the political contentiousness caused by human demographers. Many examples have been found of particular bacterial genes, operons, or regulons that are expressed preferentially at high cell densities. Many of these are regulated by proteins related to the LuxR and LuxI proteins of Vibrio fischeri, and by a diffusible pheromone called an autoinducer. LuxR and LuxI and their cognate autoinducer (3-oxohexanoyl homoserine lactone, designated VAI-1) provide an important model to describe the functions of this family of proteins. LuxR is a VAI-1 receptor and a VAI-1-dependent transcriptional activator, and LuxI directs the synthesis of VAI-1. VAI-1 diffuses across the bacterial envelope, and intracellular concentrations of it are therefore strongly increased by nearby VAI-1-producing bacteria. Similar systems regulate pathogenesis factors in Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Erwinia spp., as well as T1 plasmid conjugal transfer in Agrobacterium tumefaciens, and many other genes in numerous genera of gram-negative bacteria. Genetic analyses of these systems have revealed a high degree of functional conservation, while also uncovering features that are unique to each.