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UC San Diego Researchers Uncover Key To Bacterial Communities’ Survival

UC San Diego Researchers Uncover Key To Bacterial Communities’ Survival


Gurol Suel, associate molecular biology professor, UC San Diego

Stanley Maloy, dean, SDSU College of Sciences


Finding solutions to social conflicts may have helped colonies of tiny living organisms, without brains or nervous systems, thrive, according to new research published by UC San Diego.

A paper published Wednesday in the online publication Nature says that bacterial communities can balance opposing needs of individual cells to secure the survival of the entire community.

Scientists have been studying bacteria colonies that can develop resistance to drugs designed to kill them. The discovery offers a new way to control the growth of biofilms, a community of bacteria, by eliminating the co-dependence of the interior and exterior bacteria, researchers said.

“It’s an example of what we call ‘emergent phenomena,’” said Gurol Suel, associate professor of molecular biology at UC San Diego. “Emergent phenomena are processes that you cannot observe or understand if you are studying individuals. You can only understand the process if you look at the collective.”

Suel, who led the research effort, told KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday that these biofilms exist everywhere.

“You would find it almost anywhere,” Suel said. “You carry with you millions and millions of these bacteria.”

UC San Diego has submitted a patent application to license the discovery.

Bacterial Biofilm

Onset of growth oscillations in a bacterial biofilm in this undated video from Suel lab, UC San Diego

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