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The ISME Journal
Vol. 13, 2019, Pages: 147158

Inter-Kingdom beach warfare: Microbial chemical communication activates natural chemical defences

Kalinga Pavan T. Silva, Tahir I. Yusufaly, Prithiviraj Chellamuthu, and James Q. Boedicker

Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089, USA.


Bacteria communicate with each other to coordinate macroscale behaviors including pathogenesis, biofilm formation, and antibiotic production. Empirical evidence suggests that bacteria are capable of communicating at length scales far exceeding the size of individual cells. Several mechanisms of signal interference have been observed in nature, and how interference influences macroscale activity within microbial populations is unclear. Here we examined the exchange of quorum sensing signals to coordinate microbial activity over long distances in the presence of a variable amount of interference through a neighboring signal-degrading strain. As the level of interference increased, communication over large distances was disrupted and at a critical amount of interference, large-scale communication was suppressed. We explored this transition in experiments and reaction-diffusion models, and confirmed that this transition is a two-dimensional percolation transition. These results demonstrate the utility of applying physical models to emergence in complex biological networks to probe robustness and universal quantitative features.

Keywords: bacterial resistance, quorum sensing, biofilm, essential oils.

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