Tiny Talk on a Barnacle's Back

May 10, 2011

Even the merest of microbes must be able to talk, to be able to interact with its environment and with others to not just survive, but to thrive. This cellular chatter comes in the form of signaling molecules and exchanged metabolites (molecules involved in the process of metabolism or living) that can have effects far larger than the organism itself. Humans, for example, rely upon thousands of products derived from microbially produced molecules, everything from antibiotics and food supplements to ingredients used in toothpaste and paint.

Remarkably, most of what’s known about how microbes communicate with each other is the result of indirect observation and measurements. There has been no general or informative technique for observing the manifold metabolic exchange and signaling interactions between microbes, their hosts and environments. Until now. In a paper published in the May 5 online issue of the journal Angewandte Chemie, researchers at UC San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography report using a new form of imaging mass spectrometry to dramatically visualize multiplex microbial interactions.

Two coauthors are from the Bioinformatics & Sytems Biology Program: Prof. Pieter C. Dorrestein and Prof. Nuno Bandeira.

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