Communication between bacteria, belonging to the same species or to different species, is mediated through different chemical signals that are synthesized and secreted by bacteria. These signals can either be cell-density related (autoinducers) or be produced by bacteria at different stages of growth, and they allow bacteria to monitor their environment and alter gene expression to derive a competitive advantage. The properties of these signals and the response elicited by them are important in ensuring bacterial survival and propagation in natural environments (e.g., human oral cavity) where hundreds of bacterial species coexist. First, the interaction between a signal and its receptor is very specific, which underlies intraspecies communication and quorum sensing. Second, when multiple signals are synthesized by the same bacterium, the signaling circuits utilized by the different signals are coordinately regulated with distinct overall circuit architecture so as to maximize the overall response. Third, the recognition of a universal communication signal synthesized by different bacterial species (interspecies communication), as well that of signals produced by eukaryotic cells (interkingdom communication), is also integral to the formation of multispecies biofilm communities that are important in infection and disease. The focus of this review is on the principles underlying signal-mediated bacterial communication, with specific emphasis on the potential for using them in two applications-development of synthetic biology modules and circuits, and the control of biofilm formation and infection.
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