Smart microbes: bacteria anticipate changing environments

May 12, 2008 | Source: ScienceNews

Princeton University researchers have found that bacteria can evolve to predict upcoming events based on environmental cues.

When E. coli enters the body, it experiences warmth (in the mouth) and then low oxygen (in the gut). The researchers found that warm temperatures alone triggered the E. coli to switch to a less-efficient, low-oxygen mode. When they grew the bacteria in controlled conditions that divorced the rise in temperature from a change in oxygen levels, the microbes stopped anticipating lower oxygen levels after a few hundred generations.

Knowing which signals cause bacteria to become semi-dormant and how the signals work could lead to ways to trick the bacteria into remaining in a slow-growth mode inside of people.