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Bacterial linguistic communication and social intelligence

Authors
Journal
Trends in Microbiology
0966-842X
Publisher
Elsevier
Publication Date
Volume
12
Issue
8
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/j.tim.2004.06.006
Disciplines
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Communication
  • Ecology
  • Geography
  • Linguistics

Abstract

Abstract Bacteria have developed intricate communication capabilities (e.g. quorum-sensing, chemotactic signaling and plasmid exchange) to cooperatively self-organize into highly structured colonies with elevated environmental adaptability. We propose that bacteria use their intracellular flexibility, involving signal transduction networks and genomic plasticity, to collectively maintain linguistic communication: self and shared interpretations of chemical cues, exchange of chemical messages (semantic) and dialogues (pragmatic). Meaning-based communication permits colonial identity, intentional behavior (e.g. pheromone-based courtship for mating), purposeful alteration of colony structure (e.g. formation of fruiting bodies), decision-making (e.g. to sporulate) and the recognition and identification of other colonies – features we might begin to associate with a bacterial social intelligence. Such a social intelligence, should it exist, would require going beyond communication to encompass unknown additional intracellular processes to generate inheritable colonial memory and commonly shared genomic context.

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