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Ion channels enable electrical communication in bacteria

  1. Mar 14, 2016 #1


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    Here’s an interesting bit of research regarding how bacteria communicate through ion channels. It talks about biofilms which I understand as being thin films of bacteria that colonize the surface of teeth for example:
    The bacteria then communicate using what sounds like a 2 dimensional EM wave that propagates through this film:
    Have a read. Did I get that correct?

    Paper here:

    Understood also that bacteria also communicate through the exchange of molecules. Thought this was interesting here:

    Back to the paper regarding ion channels, my (rather weak) understanding of neurons (the article compares the method of communication used by these bacteria to that of neurons) is that they communicate through the local interaction between chemical and electrical synapses as opposed to using the more general EM field. Do any bacteria have any 'synapses' or similar structures? Do neurons use the EM field to some degree as well as synapses? What are the similarities? Differences?

    For that matter, what about chemical synapses? What are the similarities/differences?

    I realize the questions are rather broad. Feel free to provide short responses and post links to more in depth material.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 15, 2016 #2

    jim mcnamara

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    Bacteria do not do any of these:
    make tissues (this is called differentiation) where cells are different. Every cell has the same morphology.
    They do not have synapses. It is kind of unfortunate how this was presented in the media. Some analogies cause more problems than they solve.
    Bacteria are very simple compared to a neuron. It is like comparing a piece of wire to a network router. To make another, probably worse, analogy.

    Bacteria do create very simple molecules that ask other bacteria of the same species change how their metabolism works. They may start producing toxins, for example. This is Bonnie Bessler's work.
  4. Mar 16, 2016 #3


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    Here's the paper:

    "Our data thus point to a proposed mechanism where metabolically stressed cells release intracellular potassium, and the resulting elevated extracellular potassium imposes further metabolic stress onto neighbouring cells [...] Potassium-mediated depolarization of the membrane potential can transiently reduce the electrical component of the proton motive forcehttp://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v527/n7576/full/nature15709.html#ref24, and thereby lower glutamate uptake and intracellular ammonium retentionhttp://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v527/n7576/full/nature15709.html#ref19, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v527/n7576/full/nature15709.html#ref20. Therefore, potassium-mediated signalling could propagate metabolic stress onto distant cells "
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
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