Thursday, August 19, 2010

bacteria "sniff" each other out

The Scientist | When sensing the presence of other species, bacteria meet the textbook definition for olfaction. Bacteria have a sense of smell, which they may use to sniff out competitors and food sources, according to new research published this week in Biotechnology Journal.

A study led by Reindert Nijland, now at the University Medical Center in Utretcht, The Netherlands, found that Bacillus bacteria can sense each other's presence through the air by sensing ammonia production.

"This is basic science that's really, really interesting because if bacteria can really smell, that's something unexpected," Nijland told The Scientist.

Although researchers had known that bacteria could sense the presence of ammonia, "this is the first time it was shown that a gas is sensed for the purpose of regulating social behavior," said Jörg Stülke, a microbiologist at the University of Göttingen in Germany, who did not participate in the study.