BBC Future

TED Quotes

How bacteria 'talk' to each other

I know you think of yourselves as human beings but I think of you as 99% bacterial. — Bonnie Bassler

Synopsis

Bonnie Bassler discovered that bacteria "talk" to each other, using a chemical language that lets them coordinate defence and mount attacks. The find has stunning implications for medicine, industry - and our understanding of ourselves. Talk recorded 6 February 2009.

About the Speaker

Bonnie Bassler studies how bacteria can communicate with one another, through chemical signals, to act as a unit. Her work could pave the way for new, more potent medicine. In 2002, bearing her microscope on a microbe that lives in the gut of fish, Bonnie Bassler isolated an elusive molecule called AI-2, and uncovered the mechanism behind mysterious behavior called quorum sensing -- or bacterial communication. She showed that bacterial chatter is hardly exceptional or anomolous behavior, as was once thought -- and in fact, most bacteria do it, and most do it all the time. (She calls the signaling molecules "bacterial Esperanto.")

To comment on this video or anything else you have seen on Future, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.