Monday, April 20, 2009

The secret, social lives of bacteria

This video above is called The secret, social lives of bacteria, by a very dynamic speaking and brilliant molecular biologist named Bonnie Bassler of Princeton.

Unless you need to study about bacteria in some way, this 18 minute talk is pretty much all you need to know about bacteria and their impact on us. However, this is not just basic fundamental Bacteria 101. It also has cutting edge science put in such basic terms we could all understand it and be amazed. So even if you did study bacteria, there is likely something you can still learn from this talk. They need to show this video in any introductory class having anything to do with bacteria!

The amazing parts about this talk show a simple but potent system in the way bacteria strategically work together, and how we can use that system to negate their potential harm to us rather than killing them with antibiotics. Bacteria have to strategically work together because they are so small it is only together that they can have any impact on us. Their communications system is a simple but brilliant system of determining how many bacteria are in some locale, and bacteria of each types around them, and if that is sufficient numbers to do something. So much for having no brains! We have brains and yet we couldn’t hope to organize ourselves so effectively most of the time!

The language of bacteria is also discussed, and what’s shocking is the molecules they use to send out and receive to detect their numbers and identities all have a common root. No exceptions! It’s like our languages stemming from a common family! This discovery then allows us to create similar molecules to fool the bacteria into not doing what we don’t want them to, without killing them like antibiotics does. The reason for this is because antibiotics, in killing the bacteria, allows the ones that survive to mutate and become stronger. We are facing a huge antibiotic resistance from bacteria right now due to our overuse of antibiotics. If we keep this up, we will not win this war.

However, if we just fool the bacteria by running interference with their communication systems, to the point they never know there are enough of themselves to attack, they won’t mutate nearly as quickly. And we can do this specifically for all kinds of bacteria because their language molecules are very simple to determine.

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