Traditionally, research in bacterial communication and co-operation has been performed at the molecular level and less attention has been paid to evolutionary and ecological factors which govern such actions. But Steve Diggle and Roman Popat ask in this article in Microbiology Today, what is the relevance of social evolution for microbes?
Most of us at some point have had the rather unpleasant experience of putting our fingers down a plug-hole only to pull up a slimy goo. As microbiologists are now well aware, this is a large mass of microbial cells that we commonly refer to as a biofilm, and such microbial communities can be found almost everywhere. They are the pioneers of rocky shores which help enable seaweed to settle on rocks. They cause problems in industrial settings such as contamination of beer lines. Clinically, they are of huge importance, contributing to infection, colonization of medical devices and antibiotic resistance. Biofilms consist of numerous cells, often belonging to a number of diverse species surrounded by a complex exopolysaccharide matrix. They remind us that bacterial cells interact with each other and inevitably lead social lives. Recently, there has been a growing interest in studying aspects of sociality using bacteria or other microbial study systems.