Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


A Matter of Density, Not Quantity

Individual bacterial cells are capable of quorum sensing when confined in small volumes

Infections of wounds, pneumonia, etc. in hospitals in particular are often caused by bacteria called Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Once they reach a certain density, colonies of Pseudomonas aeruginosa produce virulence factors and can enter into a slimy state, a biofilm, which prevents antibiotics from penetrating. The process of quorum sensing, which cells use to “sense” cell density, is triggered when the concentration of certain signaling compounds generated by the bacteria reaches a threshold level.

A team working with Rustem F. Ismagilov at the University of Chicago has now demonstrated that the absolute number of cells is irrelevant; only the number of bacteria in a given volume plays a role. As the researchers report in the journal Angewandte Chemie, they were even able to trigger quorum-sensing processes in single cells when these were confined in extremely small volumes.

The term, quorum sensing, is derived from the Latin quorum; in politics, this is the number of votes that must be cast for an election or referendum to be valid. In biology, quorum sensing is defined as a process by which cells are able to detect the accumulation of a released signal and then change their behavior when the signal concentration exceeds a threshold level.

Traditionally, quorum sensing is thought to help microorganisms to coordinate processes that would be inefficient in single cells, such as the formation of biofilms. Quorum sensing can also prevent too many bacteria from colonizing too small an area. However, the work of Ismagilov’s team has shown that quorum sensing is also activated by a single cell if the cell finds itself in an extremely enclosed space, which raises questions as to how quorum-sensing-regulated processes are relevant both to large colonies of cells and to single cells in confined spaces.

In order to investigate this phenomenon, two different approaches can be taken: either seed a macroscopic volume with bacteria and wait for them to reach the required population through cell division, or enclose a few cells in an extremely tiny volume. The necessary signaling compounds can also become sufficiently concentrated by this route because the released signals cannot diffuse far away from the cell but instead accumulate around the cell. “In the past, the first strategy has dominated. This has led to the general view that quorum sensing is a process to coordinate the behavior of large groups of cells,” says Ismagilov. “This overlooks the possibility that small groups of cells could also initiate quorum sensing if they are confined to a sufficiently small volume. The quorum-sensing metabolic processes are relevant to a number of cellular functions, including the growth of small numbers of cells at the early stages of biofilm formation or the early stages of an infection.”

By using a microfluidic experimental array, the team was able to isolate droplets with a volume of about 100 femtoliters (100 quadrillionths of a liter), each containing only one or very few cells of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Even with these extremely low cell counts, the researchers were able to observe that quorum sensing was triggered in many cases. “This unambiguously refutes the notion that millions of cells are required for quorum sensing,” says Ismagilov.

Author: Rustem F. Ismagilov, University of Chicago (USA),

Title: Microfluidic Confinement of Single Cells of Bacteria in Small Volumes Initiates High-Density Behavior of Quorum Sensing and Growth and Reveals Its Variability

Angewandte Chemie International Edition 2009, 48, No. 32, doi: 10.1002/anie.200901550

Rustem F. Ismagilov | Angewandte Chemie
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>