Intelligent Bacteria: Cells are Incredibly Smart

For years I just sort of assumed that cells were self-reproducing blobs of protein. Maybe you did too. Turns out they’re way smarter than that. You will be amazed at this video. Dr. Bonnie Bassler from Princeton University presents a beautiful TED talk on how bacteria communicate with each other by forming words out of simple molecules.

She also explains…

  • How bacteria strategize together on how to ‘take down’ their host
  • Elegant systems of bioluminescence
  • Symbiotic relationships between organisms
  • Cells speak multiple languages

Enjoy this remarkable presentation. And a sincere thanks to Patrik Beno for sharing it with me.

Perry Marshall

Further Reading: Nature Magazine on the sophisticated community behavior of Myxobacteria

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36 Comments

Todd Pitner says:

This was a fantastic presentation.

May I ask, what or who taught the language to inter or intra-communicate?

;-)

Todd

The origin of symbolic communication – that is the question, now, isn’t it?

kenkoskinen says:

In the bacterial examples it is not symbolic communication; it is chemical communication. However there must be a memory that kicks in or identifies the communication or its lack. It is still fanscinating and Dr. Bassler’s presentation was world class. You also deserve credit for posting the link on your blog.

GMEstes1 says:

The best presentation of bacteria I’ve ever seen.
This answered many questions this web develops; vibrio fischeri and intra-species communications, cellular development and separation. All this information is from the newer generation classes of Bonnie Bassler’s in Princeton New Jersery.
All cells are a product of bacteria communication, period! We are 99% bacteria and 1% genetic make up.
Thank you Mr. Marshall for the compassion you have for natural science and microbiology.

salasgroi says:

This video was fabulous! It confirmed so many things I would talk about to those who would listen regarding what we humans are actually made up of.
Thank You

Todd Pitner says:

Yes it is . . . and you answer it well within your website. Well done!

Fkholousi says:

Survival of fittest is so ingrained in our mind that we do not dare to question it no mater what background you come from. But I want to bring an old idea to your attention that is not new at all, and in fact it is as ancient as man itself, the idea that everything on earth is in state of balance ecologically, self correcting, and living in harmony naturally in a cooperation rather than in a competition as in the survival of fittest war.
Animals that live in group demonstrate this such as bees and ants also. Their life depends on a dynamic relationship of being mutually and physically interconnected and interdependent. As we have seen and heard in the above video on communication in bacteria colonies.

We have adopted the idea of Darwinian survival of fittest to our society as an accepted way of life but in actuality when we live in group we are all dependant on one another at a very basic level, and our survival depends on this cooperative relationship.

Our psychology is changing, and we want to live in a symbioses relationship with our environment, and not dominate it. As we acquire more knowledge about earth, and our environment, we abandon old ideas of domination and survival of fittest. Our way of thinking and psychological approach that was inspired by Darwinian ideas are changing. We want to save and preserve everything for future generations. We know our future generations’ survival depends on what we do today.

TonyTrenton says:

Humanity is too successful. Somewhere someone is eating it and turning it into human protein.

The truth is very ugly for us because the more lives we save the faster we over populate and consume the limited resources . With the inevitable conclusion.

Nature works the numbers game. An infinite quantity with an infinite variety. That which works, works.That which doesn’t work falls by the wayside.

Any intellect large enough to have created our Universe would perceive it as we perceive a single molecule or maybe a cell.

This possible enormouse intellect could not be very personable.

posthuman says:

Hello, I understand the intelligent bacteria theory and agree. However, why is it intelligent to take down the host? Wouldn’t it benifit the bacteria to keep the host alive, in a symbiotic relationship, which many do. It seems counterproductive. Even from the point of view of communicable disease, the dead host in most disease spreads no more. A living host can deliver a more effective means of transmission. Proliferation is intelligent. Perhaps bacteriam intelligence varies like human intelligence.

If you watch the video closely you notice that the majority of bacteria DO live in symbiosis with us. Every host is going to die sooner or later, and from the standpoint of a single bacteria, that event is a long way off :^> I am quite sure you are correct, bacteria intelligence does vary like human intelligence.

GMEstes1 says:

Studying the host bateria cell should be interesting from the prespective of a node.
I think proliferation of intelligence is commensurate with an increase in knowledge.

That brings to my mind; why is so much time given to the Bible since it’s written on an elementary level. Its message is simple, what is it saying about its writers and characters were they simpletons? What is it saying about religion ?

Most likely religious leaders have created (form nothing) a mystery for self existence and life style.

TonyTrenton says:

We are here to part of the evolutionary process. Nothing more. Nothing less.

TonyTrenton says:

Occam’s razor wins again

John 317 says:

Hi, Tony I would suggest You read Masaru Emoto’s book The Hidden Messages in Water.Then applying the Japanese Authors findings to the first two verses in Genesis theorise…… why the Holy Spirit was over the Water……. would be interested in Your comments….Thanking You For Your Kind Attention……John 317

Qqccho says:

EVOLVING CODES- FROM NON LIVING TO LIVING MATERIA
We all know when life began- the great BB. Everybody say it; science in one hand and even some religions too- as Catholic, on the other. There are no questions about it unless those which come from fanatic margins of the population. Since that very moment the evolution process started on a non- stepping process but a continuous linear one that can be explained with a metaphor like this; “Life is a feeding chain” where whatever existed at any given period of time “had” to feed in order to survive. It could’ve been a large cloud of gases collapsing down into a bunch of stars and those into galaxies by gravity until places in the universe called planets could hold pre-Life conditions where “non living materia” feed from other materia around in order to pass their “materia code” which would later evolve into living material beings- Bacteria, with their own new Genetic Code as simple to produce the first unicellular form of life in water, then proliferate to more complex multi cellular beings into the oceans and to create plants on dry planet surfaces. Thanks to them-plants, the planet started having its own air atmosphere which later promoted other kind of terrestrial animals, all coming from Bacteria. This living material life had to find their feeding ways in order to carry on their new genetic codes as well. There are no limits to this feeding chain as cells can be watched comfort living in water of nuclear installations or living-kind material beings feeding from minerals as ferrous and discarding other chemical compounds that are used by other in the feeding chain. At first glance one might think that there are no living beings like it since we don’t recognize those forms of life, or we didn’t until now. Smooth transition.
Feeding is a chemical process in a chemical universe. It has evolved as any other thing in it. It is the tool the Universe uses to do its job; evolve. By feeding the universal process carries the starting arguments (Codes) to where they are suppose to go through time, being this unknown to mankind still. We don’t even know if an End will occur. We humans, as well as other kind of existing “things” in this Universe, carry our own evolving code but no one is to know that “new” Codes might appear in millions of years to come- both not living and living materia.
It couldn’t have been in another way. Once something starts rolling it keeps on going as it is suppose to behave unless it is stopped. We are just a tiny thing into this huge process and may or may not be the goal of existence as we believe we are. What is most improbable is that every time the Evolution Code is to change Someone or Something has to come along- in time, to do so. This is a non logical argument. If Codes were to be passing along, this aim had to be planned at BB. This is where Catholics come in. We are evolving every day of our life. It is a fact bacterium cells mutate- evolved but wrongly to our interest, and makes us dye. Perhaps we’ll change that in the future meaning new evolution Codes will be set as claim in the Video.
The Video takes the process from the appearance of the Code in living material things or DNA and shows us how, in the end, that we are just a large bunch of those little pieces of evolved Code- cells, carrying the orders to make us as we are, chemical machines that feed and communicate chemically to save the genetic code that it’s been trusted to us as part of the evolution process. That Someone or Something’s trust is not a gift since we humans can change now the genome of any given specie and change it to our own interest. It will be in Man’s hands how our Code will evolve in time as we unfold the chemistry of our cells. We were not the starting point, why should we think we are the end? Time is the driven force in an unlimited fix Space since space is a dimension that had to exist prior to accomplish any “filling” task as we all know from physics. This may change our ancient believes about who, when and why. We are now Bacteria. What we’ll be next?

Carbon-based Machine says:

Isn’t this an example of a language that is not the result of a mind?

mikitta says:

No, because it is dependent upon the language written within the bacteria, just as we are dependent upon the language written in our cells.

It is the same with bees – they have a language, but they are not it’s author, it is a function of the original code within them.

It really all comes down to DNA, a code that was conceptualized and implemented from the beginning of life on this planet – not of it’s own volition, but at the pleasure and direction of a supreme intelligence who considers it very good to look upon all He has made.

God Bless,
mik

GMEstes1 says:

Study the laws of natural selection.

kenkoskinen says:

Okay but DNA is also dependent on the “language” of chemistry. This may not be a code in the modern sense but complex things consist of simpler things/systems.

Perhaps the universe contains a yet to be discovered or still hidden “quasi-code.” It may have enteracted within chemical interactions to produce DNA in an unknown process over time.

The genesis of life therefore could still be bottom up and not top down. Nothing that has been said in this blog necessitates the existence of the biblical god. The contradicting creation stories i.e. Genesis 1 & 2 depict mythical gods that were the product of pre-scientific minds. In the light of science these stories contain many impossible and contradicting depictions. You and others are entitled to believe whatever you will but others do not have to agree.

True Believers, Beware of Nonsense!
Ken

Chemistry is not in the Claude Shannon sense a language. Not in any way, shape or form.

If you disagree, show me a code that’s not designed. The spec is at http://www.cosmicfingerprints.com/solve/. All you need is one.

kenkoskinen says:

Perry, I did not say it was. Re-read my post. The issue is not whether we can find a code that is not designed by humans. Life appeared at least once in our universe and how it occured is still a mystery. Also the evidence points to a beginning to our universe some 14 billion or so years ago. The details are still mysterious and there are speculative parts in the early part of the big bang theory such as the cosmic signularity.

You are misusing your arguments to try and make them all point to the biblical god and you have not (and I claim cannot) proven it.

Your argument also depends on the hidden overlord code in the first living cell that you suggested in one of your videos. You have not proven that, nor has that code been diciphered like the operation of DNA. Further just because the universe has constants and other properties that allowed life to appear chance factors are still in the equations. This is particularly so for our arrival on earth since our earth/solar system factors are unique and are not a design.

At best you are arguing for reasons to believe in your god. However there are still some bottom up possiblities. I do not say my speculations are proven but you do yours.

True Searchers, Beware of Nonsense!

Ken

Ken,

As a communication engineer my observation is that all algorithmic systems are designed top-down not bottom up. There is no scientific basis for a bottom up theory of evolution anywhere in the literature.

Show me any algorithmic system anywhere – a system that uses code to perform instructions – that evolved truly “bottom up” and not top down. Can you name one?

Todd Pitner says:

Can’t name one, Perry. Checkmate, God.

kenkoskinen says:

Yes … all such human invented systems are top down. This does not mean that life necessarily appeared from a top down process. Sure … life’s appearance is a mystery but that does not prove your biblical god did anything.

Afterall, we know our universe started off from a more simplistic state and in time some more complex things appeared. This process is bottom up. Your claim implies the appearance of life with DNA codes etc. was a departure from what happened before.

You seem to be saying your god kick started the big bang and then rested for a time while some things naturally became more complex. Then he got active again and created cellular life. Now he has been resting for some billions of years; as we are in the so-called seventh day.

In the meantime Jesus who is supposed to be god came here and was crucified, since humans are or became bad things and needed to be rescued from their sinful selves.

But wait a minute … if Jesus is god and he went through all that effort to come to earth etc. … How could god still be resting? Oh … we must not be in the seventh day.

So anyone who isn’t blinded by religion, can see the nonsense or inconclusiveness of your arguments.

Everything we know about information does indeed indicate that what happened with DNA was a departure from what happened before.

Can you name any counterexample that supports the bottom-up view?

kenkoskinen says:

Well the genesis of our universe is also a departure from what was going on before. Let me cut you off at the pass before you respond with the stock answer: there was no time or events before the big bang singularity. This is inconclusive speculation. Life’s appearance is also unique but it does not prove what you imply. If events are unique it means there isn’t another or counter example. This lame argument of yours is getting stale and does not prove anything. Some things/events are just unique … but similarly our entire universe could be painted with the same brush.

We still do not know the nature of the initial conditions at the genesis event. Life that subsequently appeared could be an unfolding of those conditions. In other words we do not know the nature of the infinite thing that our universe branched off of and just what qualities it imparted to our universe. In any case our universe subsequently evolved from those initial conditions.

You argue that the first cell contained the “overlord” code/program; presumably also inserted by your god. This has to be in addition to everything cellular life entails: DNA & its code, chemistry, cellular awareness etc. You have not provided a single line of proof for this super code; but you are allowed to speculate. It would be refreshing if you would admit it.

My question is why couldn’t the essential ingredients have been inherent in the initial conditions? If so the mix of events and the subsequent outcomes could have all still been a bottom up process. Yes … it’s a speculative but also a reasonable option to your top down model of design by an anthropomorphic god.

You further speculate your god intervened at what you call the two singularities but nothing necessitates that conclusion. Since the cosmic singularity is speculative it does not prove your god exists outside of space/time. That is like using one speculation to prove another. You also have not proven your next speculative step: the existence of the biblical god or gods. At least admit that is a huge leap of faith. Your program is a mix of faith and reason. Okay … tell it like it is.

Oh yes … our solar system is not a design; it is an aberration not seen in any other solar system. You are in denial about that. You seem to imply everything is a design and will not concede some things like our earth/solar system are random derivatives. There are billions of solar systems and the law of large numbers favors variety in possible outcomes in complex systems. Also the life friendly conditions on earth only exist within a window of time. As time and changes proceed the conditions will eventually become hostile to life.

In any case, chance cannot be eliminated from the story of our arrival. Indeed it also played a role in the zillions of cellular battles/changes that preceded the arrival of more complex life forms including us. A lot of cells perished in toxic environments before one or a relatively small number developed a solution that was transmitted by natural selection to a new generation. This had to have occurred billions of times. I think we should be thankful for initial conditions including the constants, codes, bio-friendly laws and for chance. These have been interacting for a very long time and we are lucky to be here. Gee did I say lucky?

Todd Pitner says:

IN PURSUIT OF AN ATHEOLOGY DEGREE

“Science is about observable facts and empirical evidence – NOT God,” opened the atheist presenter. “Now, onto our MULTIVERSE presentation.”

“What we can empirically verify and double-blind test is real; what we cannot, is not – thus, God cannot be real,” confirmed the atheist professor. “Okay class, tomorrow we will validate the natural origins of the Universe and life.”

“To review, class, God does not exist,” clarified the astrophysics professor. “Your assignment for next week will be to not account for all Universal matter coming into existence in less than one billionth of a second 14.73 billion years ago.”

“As we have repeatedly verified, class, God does not and cannot exist,” reinforced the biology professor. “Your assignment for next week will be to not account for how the first cell arose or to verify macro-evolution being anything more than wishful thinking.”

“I’m sorry to burst the Christian bubble, but Supernaturalism does not exist – only random, chaotic, undirected matter-in-motion,” educated the secular humanist philosophy professor. “Now, this semester we will use our minds to unlock the immaterial universal Laws of Logic that ground all reason.”

“Much to the regret of Bible believers everywhere suffering from the disease of blind faith, Neo-Darwinian Evolution is a FACT,” stated the atheist scientist. “Now, please open your books to the chapter on Human Origins, where we will not address how matter transitioned from impersonal atoms to personal life.”

“The alleged truth claims of the Historical Jesus cannot be independently verified nor empirically proven, and are thus unreliable,” stated the world history professor. “Class, today we will study the sophisticated writings of Plato, the 400 BC author who helped lay the foundations of natural philosophy as evidenced in his Socratic dialogues.”

Three weeks later: All but five students handed in blank sheets of paper, subsequently receiving A’s. The Christian students who challenged, “Because a blind person has never empirically verified stars, do they not exist?”, “The modern scientific method cannot prove the universe is uniform, yet if the universe isn’t uniform, how can we do science?”, “Which came first, matter or logic?”, “How much do facts weigh?” and, “I lack belief in transcendent matter!” all failed.

GOOD NEWS!!! All professors above were finally granted their long-awaited tenure.

Help me in congratulating them!

qazi says:

Dear
The Quran says that ”those who disbelieve will wish that they had been Muslims”.

qazi says:

In Quran, which is the book of Allah, Allah says that ”those who disbelieve will wish that they had been Muslims”.

Salo says:

God exists outside of “time” and “space” as we know and measure them, which is why He can be in the biblical “seventh day” and at the same time “work” here in the finite, material world. We, of course, being finite in our understanding cannot grasp this reality but we can by using our imaginations come to a rudimentary understanding of what that might mean. I used to wonder how God could process, evaluate and respond to all the petitions He received from humans who prayed. There must be millions at any given moment. The answer, logically, is that He doesn’t live in and isn’t bound by time which is why the bible says that one moment is like a thousand years to Him. To try to bring this closer to something we can grasp consider the following example. A person is, say, on a business trip. He is driving and glances at his watch. He then begins thinking about his wife and children back home at the same time. He is thinking of what each one, according to the time of day it is, is doing. He is aware of what he is doing but is, in a sense, also with and “mentally observing” what his family is doing. He is by using his imagination in more than one place at the same time. Well, God can be in more than one place at the same time because He exists outside of “time”. God has all of eternity to observe, intervene, love and care for each and every one of us simultaneously, which is why the bible says “his mercy is everlasting”. It and He are not bound by finite concepts, albeit reflected in them if we wish to get an imperfect understanding of Him and his nature.

parvizs says:

EXCUSE MY ENGLISH IS NOT AS WELL AS I NEED…
for this communication we must have an alguritms….
I Iove algurithms for example neural network is one of the algurithmes that depend on the communications .
is this a simple kind of this data transfer like that the ant theory tells us?
base on this algurithms we can define the human communication which is usefull in ICT and ….
thanks

TonyTrenton says:

First I would like to give a guide as to what Intelligence is and is not.

The IQ rating is a relationship of the ability to learn relative to time.
If you can learn something faster than me then your Intelligence Quotent is higher than mine.

A high IQ doesn’t make you smart !

How you use what you’ve got determines how cleaver you are.

jerpierce says:

Evolution is such a hock of crock. It fails to answer some of the simplest of questions. 1. How did all the fostile fuil get under the ocean floor? 2. why is there no evolutionary difference between multi-thousand year old mummy skelitons and our own? (certainly if evolution was true there would be a measurable difference)

John 317 says:

Hi, Thanks Perry great presentation of bacteria and gives us a glimpse of the future direction of medicine………..Regards……John 317

qazi says:

SUBHAN ALLAH!
Allah has created all this universe in such a way that when we start thinking about what is happening around us, we definitely reach this conclusion that there is a supreme supreme power that has very intelligently created all this.
Allah says in Quran Sura 35:verse28] ”And among people and moving creatures and grazing livestock are various colors. Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Forgiving”.

qazi says:

Allah, the creator of the universe

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