Conversations with a Killer Bacterium
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Bacteria communicate with each other by releasing signal molecules into the environment that travel between cells. When the molecules accumulate, surface receptors detect the signals and trigger pathways that alter gene expression on a population-wide scale. This process, called quorum sensing (QS), allows bacterial groups to behave like multicellular organisms. In the human pathogen Vibrio cholerae, QS synchronizes the production of multiple small RNAs (sRNAs) that do not encode proteins, but instead bind to and alter messenger RNA targets, including one that controls essential virulence traits. We used a new computer algorithm, TargetRNA, to verify the known sRNA-controlled targets and also to predict several new candidates. I will genetically engineer a fusion of each candidate to a bioluminescent “reporter” gene, visually monitor responses to QS signals, and define the mechanism of each sRNA/mRNA binding interaction. These studies will clarify how chemical information is processed and converted into behavioral changes in this deadly microbe.