New Research Found Bacteria Communicate with Each Other like Nerve Cells in the Brain

The human brain is known as the supreme masterpiece of evolution while the bacteria is often viewed as low, inferior individuals. It seems that there are huge differences between them. However, scientists at the University of California, San Diego have uncovered that the mechanism that bacteria communicate with one another is very similar to that of nerve cells in the human brain. This study was published in the October 21 issue of the journal Nature.

“This discovery not only changes the way we think about bacteria, but also how we think about the brain,” said Gürol Süel, the leader of the study, an associate professor of molecular biology at UC San Diego. “All the human feelings, behavior and intelligence depend on electrical signal communications among neurons in the brain, a process mediated by the ion channels. Now we find that, bacteria use similar ion channels for such communication, and thus to resolve the pressure of their own metabolism. Our discovery suggests that neurological disorders that are triggered by metabolic stress may have ancient bacterial origins, and could thus provide a new perspective on how to treat these diseases.”

“Our understanding of the brain’s electrical conduction is mostly based on the structural research of bacterial ion channels,” Süel said. But how bacteria use these ion channels has always been a mystery. Therefore, Süel and his colleagues studied the long-range communication within biofilms, which is made up of millions of tightly packed bacteria that is highly resistant to chemicals and antibiotics. ”

The researchers believe that metabolic regulation distance between bacteria in biofilms may be involved in the electrochemical communication. Then they monitored the change in the metabolism of bacterial cell membrane potential oscillations in the biofilm. Results have shown that oscillations in membrane potential are consistent with oscillations in biofilm growth and membrane potential change is mediated by ion channels.

Further studies revealed that the long-range electrical signals within the biofilm was conducted by potassium ions, whose diffuse wave kept coordination with the metabolic activity of bacteria in the inner and outer regions of the biofilm. Once the bacterial potassium channel is removed, biofilms electrical conductivity can not be performed.

The research indicates that this bacterial communication mechanism is strikingly similar to the “cortical spreading depression” in the human brain, which is involved in migraines and seizures. “Both migraines and the electrical signaling in bacteria we discovered are triggered by metabolic stress,” Süel said. “This indicates that many epilepsy and migraine drugs may effectively attack the bacterial biofilms to help people solve global health problems – antibiotic resistance”


Ion channels enable electrical communication in bacterial communities, Nature


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