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Bacterial quorum sensing in complex and dynamically changing environments

Nature Reviews Microbiologyvolume 17pages371382 (2019) | Download Citation


Quorum sensing is a process of bacterial cell-to-cell chemical communication that relies on the production, detection and response to extracellular signalling molecules called autoinducers. Quorum sensing allows groups of bacteria to synchronously alter behaviour in response to changes in the population density and species composition of the vicinal community. Quorum-sensing-mediated communication is now understood to be the norm in the bacterial world. Elegant research has defined quorum-sensing components and their interactions, for the most part, under ideal and highly controlled conditions. Indeed, these seminal studies laid the foundations for the field. In this Review, we highlight new findings concerning how bacteria deploy quorum sensing in realistic scenarios that mimic nature. We focus on how quorums are detected and how quorum sensing controls group behaviours in complex and dynamically changing environments such as multi-species bacterial communities, in the presence of flow, in 3D non-uniform biofilms and in hosts during infection.

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This work was supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, US National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant 5R37GM065859 and National Science Foundation grant MCB-1713731 (to B.L.B.), as well as by a Life Science Research Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship through the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation through grant GBMF2550.06 and NIH grant 1K99GM129424-01 to S.M.

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  1. Princeton University, Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton, NJ, USA

    • Sampriti Mukherjee
    •  & Bonnie L. Bassler
  2. Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Chevy Chase, MD, USA

    • Bonnie L. Bassler


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Both authors researched data for the article, made substantial contributions to discussions of the content, wrote the article and reviewed and/or edited the manuscript before submission.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bonnie L. Bassler.

Supplementary information


Phenotypic heterogeneity

Nongenetic variations in traits between individual cells in an isogenic population.

Bet hedging

A strategy that enables diversification of phenotypes within a population with the consequence of reducing the overall risk of death of all the cells in the population. Thus, bet hedging increases fitness under temporally varying conditions.

Social policing

A strategy in which quorum-sensing bacteria link production of costly private goods to production of public goods to punish nonproducers and thereby prevent emergence of social cheaters.


A microbial imbalance on or inside a host in which the normal microbiota is disrupted, for example, after treatment with antibiotics.

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