Can bacteria communicate? Are they capable of conspiring against us on the leftovers in our fridge or in those first few days of an illness? New science tells us it’s possible, on some levels!

Yesterday in the U.S., many Americans enjoyed their Thanksgiving feast, and left-overs will be moving past their prime in a few days, so when I discovered this amazing TED Talk, it made me think of the dressing that sat out on the kitchen counter too long. Were there microbes multiplying and communicating there about doing their dirty work?

Image: cartoon of how Bacteria communicate

Source: Dr. Lynda

The answer depends on your definition of “communication.” As you know from your own everyday experiences, communication isn’t always about verbal exchanges. In fact most communication – body language, facial expressions, gestures – is non-verbal: a rolled eye, the cold shoulder, hands on hips, or a furrowed brow can speak volumes.

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What if bacteria communicate with some equivalent “language” that contributes to the group’s overall success? What if bacteria’s definition of success is taking over your left-over dressing and making you sick?

As Bonnie Bassler, a professor at Princeton University, explains, it turns out bacteria do in fact use an interesting form of communication… One we might do well to keep in mind!

Professor Bassler explains more in today’s EWC featured TED Talk:

Via: TED 1

Ms. Bassler studies bacteria and bacteria communication at the Princeton University Molecular Biology Department. We could end up caring deeply about her research if someday we have a sick child or are ailing ourselves.

Why should we care?  She’s paving the way for new, more potent medicine 2 (something that will be a dire need in the coming years as antibiotics lose effectiveness).

Here’s a little snippet of her story:

In 2002, training her microscope on a microbe that lives in the gut of fish, Bonnie Bassler isolated an elusive molecule called AI-2, and uncovered the mechanism behind mysterious behavior called quorum sensing — or bacterial communication. She showed that bacterial chatter is hardly exceptional or anomolous [sic] behavior, as was once thought — but that, in fact, most bacteria do it, and most do it all the time. (She calls the signaling molecules ‘bacterial Esperanto.’)

The discovery shows how cell populations use chemical powwows to stage attacks, evade immune systems and forge slimy defenses called biofilms. For that, she’s won a MacArthur “genius” grant — and is giving new hope to frustrated pharmacos seeking new weapons against drug-resistant superbugs.

Bassler teaches molecular biology at Princeton, where she continues her years-long study of v. harveyi, one such social microbe that is mainly responsible for glow-in-the-dark sushi. She also teaches aerobics at the YMCA. 3

For even more information, check out Professor Bassler’s research log via Princeton University’s Labs web page.

Great insights here!

Meanwhile, stay open, curious and hopeful!

~ Dr. Lynda

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  1. Bassler, Bonnie. “How Bacteria “talk”” TED, Feb. 2009. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <>.
  2. Bassler, Bonnie. “How Bacteria “talk”” TED, Feb. 2009. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <>.
  3. Bassler, Bonnie. “How Bacteria “talk”” TED, Feb. 2009. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <>.

Dr. Lynda is a dentist, artist, global traveler, and philanthropist who looks for potential and shares it with the world. Hear her latest conversations with thought leaders on the Conspiracy of Goodness Podcast--new episodes every Wednesday!