The same, but different
According to Kirsten Jung, biofilms present particularly striking examples of the phenotypic heterogeneity that lurks in bacterial populations. Biofilms are made up of massive numbers of microorganisms that grow as thin sheets on surfaces. Many types of bacteria form biofilms, including common species belonging to genera such as Bacillus, Pseudomonas, Salmonella and Escherichia. The members of these communities can differ in a whole spectrum of traits like metabolic activity, tolerance to antibiotics, ability to form long-lived spores. This makes a real division of labor possible. Indeed, as Jung points out, such phenomena must have been of benefit to microorganisms over the course of evolution, as they would otherwise no longer be manifest. Phenotypic heterogeneity becomes especially obvious during transitional phases, as when previously free-living bacteria infect the cells of animal hosts, for example.
What are the factors - both environmental and intrinsic to the cells - that give rise to such heterogeneity? What molecular switches are able to program different modes of behavior within a population? What design principles underlie the diversity of behaviors that one can find within colonies and confer the rudiments of individuality on bacterial cells? These are among the questions to be pursued by some 25 specialists in various disciplines, who are participating in the new program “Phenotypic Heterogeneity and the Sociobiology of Bacterial Populations.” The answers will help us understand how communication and division of labor function among bacteria and how microorganisms come to adopt different survival strategies. The insights gained will no doubt have eminently practical implications, as they may point to new ways of preventing the formation of biofilms, optimizing biotechnological processes, and understanding the bases of antibiotic resistances.
The program will not only facilitate collaborations between researchers at LMU, it will also involve close cooperation with experts at other German universities, and at institutes belonging to the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft and the Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft. In addition, DFG Priority Programs provide special opportunities for junior researchers, offering workshops, Summer Schools and start-up funding for post-doctoral projects. (math/ph)
Prof. Dr. Kirsten Jung
Department of Biologie I
Chair of Microbiology
Phone: +49 (0) 89 / 2180 – 74500