Bacteria Communicate Just Like Our Neurons

The discovery not only changes the way scientists view bacteria; It also changes the way they see our brain.

A new study points out that bacteria have a much more sophisticated communication system than expected. The research was performed on biofilms or bacterial "plaques" that make up the tartar - yes, the one that lodges in the teeth. These clusters are extremely resistant to antibiotics and other chemicals, which puts them at the top of the list of major medical concerns. Communication between bacteria is through ion channels, the same structures involved in communication between neurons.

In biofilm, bacteria are capable of resolving conflicts within the community as well as human societies. It has been found that when plaques grow to a certain size, outside cells, which have unrestricted access to nutrients from the external environment, stop growing to allow "food" to be sent to the bacteria further to the center of the colony. Thus the structure stays alive and resists antibiotics. These fluctuations in biofilm size require close coordination between peripheral and central bacteria, leading researchers to imagine that this communication was electrochemical.

Experiments revealed that fluctuations in membrane size led to far-reaching electrical signals within the biofilm. As energy spread, the metabolic activity of bacteria was coordinated. When the ion channels were deleted from the bacteria, plaque was unable to conduct electrical signals and became disordered.

Gurol Suel, project leader, stated that "Like our brain's neurons, we found that bacteria use ion channels to communicate with each other through electrical signals. In this way, the bacterial community within biofilms seems to function as a ' microbial brain '".