Bacteria in nature exhibit remarkable capacity to sense their surroundings and rapidly adapt to diverse conditions by gaining new beneficial traits. This extraordinary feature facilitates their survival when facing extreme environments. Utilizing Bacillus subtilis as our primary model organism, we propose to study two facets of this vital bacterial attribute: communication via extracellular nanotubes, and persistence as resilient spores while maintaining the potential to revive. Exploring these fascinating aspects of bacterial physiology is likely to change our view as to how bacteria sense, respond, endure and communicate with their extracellular environment.
We have recently discovered a previously uncharacterized mode of bacterial communication, mediated by tubular extensions (nanotubes) that bridge neighboring cells, providing a route for exchange of intracellular molecules. Nanotube-mediated molecular sharing may represent a key form of bacterial communication in nature, allowing for the emergence of new phenotypes and increasing survival in fluctuating environments. Here we propose to develop strategies for observing nanotube formation and molecular exchange in living bacterial cells, and to characterize the molecular composition of nanotubes. We will explore the premise that nanotubes serve as a strategy to expand the cell surface, and will determine whether nanotubes provide a conduit for phage infection and spreading. Furthermore, the formation and functionality of interspecies nanotubes will be explored. An additional mode employed by bacteria to achieve extreme robustness is the ability to reside as long lasting spores. Previously held views considered the spore to be dormant and metabolically inert. However, we have recently shown that at least one week following spore formation, during an adaptive period, the spore senses and responds to environmental cues and undergoes corresponding molecular changes, influencing subsequent emergence from quiescence.
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