This project focuses on the molecular mechanisms used by bacteria for inter-cellular communication. This process, called quorum sensing, involves the production, release, and response to signal molecules termed auto-inducers. Quorum sensing enables a bacterial population to regulate activities as a multi-cellular group. Behaviours regulated by quorum sensing are often crucial for successful bacterial-host relationships; both symbiotic and pathogenic. Most auto-inducers are species-specific, however one auto-inducer called auto-inducer-2 (AI-2) is produced and detected by a wide variety of bacteria allowing inter-species communication. Using my expertise in biochemistry and genetics, I will take a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of AI-2 systems promoting bacterial inter-species communication.
By studying quorum sensing in Escherichia coli, I have characterized one of the first AI-2 systems. I will pursue the characterization of the E. coli AI-2 system, and will also investigate novel AI-2 signalling systems in other bacteria to understand the network architecture controlling AI-2 signalling at the species level. I have developed the first laboratory system to study inter-species AI-2 signalling in consortia, so once I identify novel AI-2 circuits, I will u se this set up to study inter-species cell-cell communication in complex bacterial communities.
Understanding inter-species cell-cell communication requires defining the chemical molecules that convey information, the network components involved in detecting the signals and processing information inside individual cells, and finally characterizing the behaviour of the bacterial community. The studies in this proposal use an inter-disciplinary approach to investigate cell-cell signalling at all of these levels. An important practical aspect is that understanding quorum sensing could lead to the development of anti-quorum sensing therapies for use as alternatives to traditional antibiotics.
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