Nature Reviews Microbiology 5, 230-239 (March 2007) | doi:10.1038/nrmicro1600

OpinionDoes efficiency sensing unify diffusion and quorum sensing?

Burkhard A. Hense1, Christina Kuttler1, Johannes Müller1,2, Michael Rothballer3, Anton Hartmann3 & Jan-Ulrich Kreft4  About the authors


Quorum sensing faces evolutionary problems from non-producing or over-producing cheaters. Such problems are circumvented in diffusion sensing, an alternative explanation for quorum sensing. However, both explanations face the problems of signalling in complex environments such as the rhizosphere where, for example, the spatial distribution of cells can be more important for sensing than cell density, which we show by mathematical modelling. We argue that these conflicting concepts can be unified by a new hypothesis, efficiency sensing, and that some of the problems associated with signalling in complex environments, as well as the problem of maintaining honesty in signalling, can be avoided when the signalling cells grow in microcolonies.

Author affiliations

  1. Burkhard A. Hense, Christina Kuttler and Johannes Müller are at the Institute of Biomathematics and Biometry, GSF-National Research Center for Environment and Health, Ingolstaedter Landstrasse 1, D85764 Neuherberg/Munich, Germany.
  2. Johannes Müller is also at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, Unit M12, Technical University Munich, Boltzmannstrasse 3, D-85748 Garching/Munich, Germany.
  3. Michael Rothballer and Anton Hartmann are at the Department of Microbe–Plant Interactions, GSF-National Research Center for Environment and Health.
  4. Jan-Ulrich Kreft is at Theoretical Biology, IZMB, University of Bonn, Kirschallee 1, D-53115 Bonn, Germany.

Correspondence to: Burkhard A. Hense1 Email:

Correspondence to: Jan-Ulrich Kreft4 Email:


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