New technique allows study of the dynamics within complex microbial communities
Thousands of people in a concert crowd might share a love for a particular performer, but they’re each unique individuals with distinct needs and behaviours. The same is true of communities of microbes, even those that are all genetically identical, but technical limitations mean many traditional studies treat them as a single population. At tiny scales each bacterium experiences differences in the environment, and a new technique reveals how their gene expression – and hence activity – varies accordingly (pictured, with expression of particular genes coloured in individual cells, right, within a layer of bacteria, left). Observing differences at this scale reveals the dynamics allowing a whole community to adapt to changing conditions and develop characteristics such as antibiotic resistance. Understanding these could be key to manipulating them for the benefit of human and environmental health, bringing more effective treatments for chronic infections or promoting plant growth in response to climate change.
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