Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cell Shape and Polarity - "Being" and "Knowing"

The other day I asked you to "consider the possibility that nature isn't opposed to culture, that biochemistry rivals intellect as a survival tool...," I just received an article from The Scientist that provokes a little further speculation along that line;
Jacobs-Wagner's career started off with a bang when, as a graduate student at the University of Li├Ęge in the early 1990s, she discovered that some bacteria can induce the enzyme beta-lactamase when exposed to antibiotics such cephalosporin, rendering them resistant to these drugs. "It's the physiology that interested me, the physiology I really wanted to understand," she says. "How do bacteria know they are under attack, and how are they able to respond by making protein that inactivates the antibiotics?"[...]Her pioneering studies on the molecular mechanisms underlying cell shape and cell polarity in Caulobacter crescentus, says Errington, "have helped change the way people think about bacteria. Now there's a whole new field of people who are working on bacterial cell biology using the same sorts of approaches used to study eukaryotes.
Can bacteria "know" anything? Is this just an instance of bumping up against the descriptive limitations of the language, or as I suspect, does it point to something rather more fundamental about the inseparable nature of "being" and "knowing"?