“Any chemists in the audience?” asks Betty Slinger. Maybe there should be – Slinger’s lab is interested in the chemical language of bacteria, specifically “quorum sensing” – a chemical cell-to-cell form of communication. When a certain threshold of this chemical is reached, the chemical is able to bind and cells can respond. We are only beginning to understand cell-to-cell communication in the microbiome, and quorum-sensing is one pathway for this to take place.
Slinger and colleagues narrowed their focus to P. aeruginosa (Pa) and Burkholderia cepacia (Bcc), both of which are sources of lung infection and often antibiotic resistant. Both also use similar quorum sensing pathways to moderate virulence. The researchers infected C. elegans with Pa and Bcc, and found that a combination of the pathogens killed the worms faster than either pathogen alone (which were both more effective than an E. coli control). Inter-species quorum-sensing interactions were likely involved in this increased virulence, though more work remains to be done.