, Volume 81, Issue 1-4, pp 565-574

Toward an understanding of microbial communities through analysis of communication networks

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Bacteria receive signals from diverse members of their biotic environment. They sense their own species through the process of quorum sensing, which detects the density of bacterial cells and regulates functions such as bioluminescence, virulence, and competence. Bacteria also respond to the presence of other microorganisms and eukaryotic hosts. Most studies of microbial communication focus on signaling between the microbe and one other organism for empirical simplicity and because few experimental systems offer the opportunity to study communication among various types of organisms. But in the real biological world, microorganisms must carry on multiple molecular conversations simultaneously between diverse organisms, thereby constructing communication networks. We propose that biocontrol of plant disease, the process of suppressing disease through application of a microorganism, offers a model for the study of communication among multiple organisms. Successful biocontrol requires the sending and receiving of signals between the biocontrol agent and the pathogen, plant host, and microbial community surrounding the host. We are using Bacillus cereus, a biocontrol agent, and the organisms it must interact with, to dissect a communication network. This system offers an excellent starting point for study because its members are defined and well studied. An understanding of signaling in the B. cereus biocontrol system may provide a model for network communication among organisms that share a habitat and provide a new angle of analysis for understanding the interconnections that define communities.

This revised version was published online in August 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.