Tiny Conspiracies: Cell-to-Cell Communication in Bacteria
In this lecture, HHMI investigator Bonnie Bassler explains how bacteria communicate with one another using small chemical molecules that they release into the environment. These molecules travel from cell to cell and the bacteria have receptors on their surfaces that allow them to detect and respond to the build up of the molecules. This process of cell-to-cell communication in bacteria is called quorum sensing; it allows bacteria to synchronize behavior on a population-wide scale. Bacterial behaviors controlled by quorum sensing are usually ones that are unproductive when undertaken by an individual bacterium acting alone but become effective when undertaken in unison by the group. For example, quorum sensing controls virulence, biofilm formation, and the exchange of DNA. Thus, quorum sensing is a mechanism that allows bacteria to function as multi-cellular organisms. Current biomedical research is focused on the development of novel anti-bacterial therapies aimed at interfering with quorum sensing. Such therapies could be used to control bacterial pathogenicity.
About Bonnie Bassler
Bassler is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and the Squibb Professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University.
Bassler earned a BS in Biochemistry from the University of California at Davis and a PhD in Biochemistry from the Johns Hopkins University. After completing postdoctoral work in genetics at the Agouron Institute, she joined the Princeton faculty in 1994.
At Princeton, Bassler teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses. She directed the Molecular Biology Graduate Program from 2002 to 2008 and chaired Princeton University’s Council on Science and Technology for six years. During that time she rejuvenated the science curriculum for humanists. Bassler is a passionate advocate for diversity in the sciences and is actively committed to educating the public about science.
Bassler has been a fellow of the MacArthur Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She has been elected to the American Academy of Microbiology, the Royal Society, and the American Philosophical Society. Her many awards include the American Society for Microbiology’s Eli Lilly Investigator Award, Princeton University’s President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, the Wiley Prize in Biomedical Science, the National Academy of Sciences’ Richard Lounsbery Award, and the UNESCO-L’Oreal Woman in Science Award. In 2015 she received the Shaw Prize.
Bassler served as President of the American Society for Microbiology from 2010 to 2011, and chaired the American Academy of Microbiology Board of Governors from 2011 to 2014. She is a member of the National Science Board and was nominated to that position by President Barack Obama. The Board oversees the National Science Foundation and prioritizes the nation’s research and educational priorities in science, math, and engineering.