A2: Microbes in the News- Biologists Discover That Communities of Bacteria Timeshare Their Food

Article Title: Biologists Discover That Communities of Bacteria Timeshare Their Food

Source: bigthink.com

Date: 4-14-17

Link: https://bigthink.com/robby-berman/biologists-discover-that-communities-of-bacteria-timeshare-food

Summary: Despite being simple at first sight, biologists at UC San Diego found that bacterial communities in biofilms are capable of using time intervals to share food when it is in low supply. Even between species in a community, they take turns consuming the limited amount of food at timed intervals, using electrical signals out of sync with other populations to set up a timing system where they alternate which group feeds. Despite not having a complex brain, bacteria have figured out how to use time just like humans have.

Connections: This relates to what we were talking about with populations versus communities, and also applies to topics like food spoilage and food poisoning. Having multiple different species growing in a food source from them sharing the food certainly has a different effect on food safety than if 1 species had outcompeted the others, especially in how to prevent and fix this bacterial contamination.

Critical Analysis: It is very interesting to see that despite the fact that they are competing with each other, entirely different species of bacteria will cooperate with each other to ensure that they all get access to the food to some degree. I would think that they would compete even more aggressively under those conditions, but instead they share using electrical signals to create a timer for each species to eat. The article explains itself well, explaining the reasons in an easily digestible way. It relates the timesharing concept well to humans, and conveys just how interesting it is that simple bacteria can use the idea of time, which is a concept that humans use all the time.

Question: I wonder if there are conditions where the bacteria would not use this timesharing system? It would be a harmful adaptation to have if a certain bacterium ignored the rules of this sharing system, in a manner of the Tragedy of the Commons. Why would the bacteria do this, when they could simply compete with each other for the food and have it all to themselves or even use the method and betray the other species by ignoring the signal that says their time to eat is up?