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The secret, social lives of bacteria: Exclusive interview with Bonnie Bassler

In 2002, bearing her microscope on a microbe that lives in the gut of fish, Bonnie Bassler isolated an elusive molecule called AI-2, which showed not only that almost all bacteria can communicate -- but that they do so all the time. (Watch her 2009 TEDTalk!) The TED Blog interviewed Bassler over the phone to talk about this secret, social life of bacteria. She told us why the chemical language evolved the way it did, what the applications of her research outside of medicine might be, and what the daily life of a scientist is like. Here's a snippet: The fantasy is, since an anti-quorum sensing drug won't kill bacteria, it won't select as readily for resistance. Even if some bacterium is fortuitously resistant, it won't get the growth advantage that comes when its siblings die as happens with resistance to a traditional antibiotic. The hope is that an anti-quorum sensing therapeutic will have a long shelf-life, that is, it will take bacteria a long while to evolve ways around the anti-quorum sensing therapy. That, in turn, gives scientists time to develop more new ways to combat harmful bacteria or to enhance good bacteria.

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