Bacterial spores can recognize the perfect moment to wake up!

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Bacterial spores can recognize the perfect moment to wake up!

A study published in Science showed that bacterial spores remain aware of their surroundings, even when physiologically dead. Thanks to a reserve of charged particles which they use as a source of energy, these organisms have the ability to know the good time to wake up.

A team working on bacterial spores

This research has revealed new information regarding how disease spreads and the ability of certain organisms to survive in extreme conditions on Earth and perhaps elsewhere. This suggests that, theoretically, there may be extraterrestrial life forms in the same dormant state.

But how do they know when to come out of dormancy?

Spores are the resistance form of bacteria. They are physiologically dead and without metabolism. Provided with a protective layer, they can survive for centuries under the most extreme conditions. They wake up when certain criteria are met. The bacterium Bacillus anthracis, responsible for anthrax, can for example become infectious again after a long period of dormancy.

So how do spores know exactly when to wake up? Molecular biologist and principal investigator Gürol Süel from the University of California, San Diego and his team have conducted research to explore this question further. They analyzed thousands of dormant spores of Bacillus subtilis, a bacteria that is harmless to humans. This bacterium holds the record for longevity in space.

They measured the ability of the spores to detect weak nutrient pulses in their environment. One or two of those pulses weren’t enough to wake up the bacteria. However, they woke up after a certain number of signals.

A fairly familiar evolutionary strategy

Using a mathematical model, the researchers found that each signal released potassium ions. Over time, the potassium ions became strong enough to wake up the bacteria. They called this activation model “integrate and pull”. This cumulative signal processing strategy allows bacteria to only wake up only if the conditions are all present.

“The way spores process information is similar to how neurons work in our brain. »

Gurol Suel

Microbiologists Jonathan Lombardino and Briana Burton of the University of Wisconsin-Madison published an accompanying article in the journal Outlook. They think it should expand research on other organisms capable of entering the same state as spores, like fungi. This would shed light on their involvement in life in general.


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