Quorum sensing is the fascinating mechanism by which bacteria decide whether they are present in sufficient numbers to have an effect, eg to produce light for a symbiotic host organism, or to launch an infection in an unsuspecting victim. This field has a fan community among those interested in the resulting phenomena (eg bioluminescence, infection) or in bacterial communications more generally, but I don't think it has received nearly the attention it deserves. Part of the reason may be that some of the most important areas where QS occurs are also incredibly complex. However, bioluminescence offers very simple and elegant model systems, and on the basis of things learned there, science can eventually progress to the messy ones, like our guts.
I think I last wrote about quorum sensing around 10 years ago (and, definitely, in my book Light and Life), so it was about time to revisit the field, which is becoming more important as we are beginning to appreciate the importance of the bacterial symbionts in our bodies. My feature on is out now:
Shining new light on quorum sensing
Current Biology Volume 27, Issue 24, pR1293–R1296, 18 December 2017
Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access one year after publication)
Embryos of the Hawaiian bobtail squid (Euprymna scolopes), which are colonised specifically by the luminescent symbiont Vibrio fischeri, are an ideal model system to study aspects of symbiosis and quorum sensing.
(Image: Tim Miyashiro and Andrew Cecere (Appl. Environ. Microbiol. (2016) 82, 3082–3091.)