Bacteria Make Decisions
Bacteria may not be the smartest critters you'll ever meet, but they have been observed to make complex decisions: their cells contain a certain number of receptors, which sense the environment around them and process that information. For instance, a certain receptor might tell a bacterium where to move, whether to become virulent, or when to start converting nitrogen to ammonium.
Some strains of bacteria are able to "think" better than their counterparts, since they have more of these decision-making receptors. E. Coli is a D-student, with only 5 receptors, while Azospirillum brasilense has 48, making it much more "aware" of its surroundings, and better able to make prudent decisions. However, E. Coli's limited capacity makes it much easier to study.
To save time, a computer model of a bacterium's various receptors was created. This can be used to predict the uses of each of the receptors. Before this program, the scientists had to create mutant bacteria lacking certain receptors, and observe how their behaviors and decision-making changed.
Eventually, knowledge gained by studying these receptors can be used to make medicine to help fight harmful bacteria, or put helpful bacteria to use in more effective ways than ever before.
Image: "colonies" by PlaxcoLab on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.Tweet