Bacterial Quorum Sensing

Adaptation is the key for the survival. Organisms with successful adaption strategies are more likely to survive than others. Dinosaurs failed to adapt to the new environment and therefore became extinct.

What about unicellular organisms, are they gifted with such traits?


Scientists have discovered that “bacteria have developed sophisticated methods for sensing their environment and regulating the expression of genes”.

In this post, I am just sharing basic concepts about Bacterial Quorum Sensing.

Quorum sensing (QS) is a bacterial cell-cell communication/signaling mechanism that allows bacteria to share information about cell density and adjust gene expression accordingly. It involves the production, detection, and response to extracellular signaling molecules called autoinducers (AIs). These autoinducers are N-acyl homoserine or N- butyryl homoserine lactones that are produced continually.

AIs accumulate in the environment as the bacterial population density increases. When the bacterial population reaches a certain threshold enough autoinducers are present to activate transcription factors within the cells that coordinate the expression of genes. This collective alteration of gene expression is beneficial to those bacteria.

This controls genes that direct activities that are beneficial when performed by groups of bacteria acting in synchrony. Traits controlled by quorum sensing include;

  1. Expression of virulence factors of pathogenic bacteria
  2. Bioluminescence
  3. Sporulation
  4. Competence
  5. Antibiotic production
  6. Biofilm formation

Both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria use quorum sensing, but there are some major differences in their mechanisms. Gram-positive bacteria use autoinducing peptides (AIPs), as signaling molecules whereas Gram-negative bacteria communicate using small molecules like acyl-homoserine lactones (AHLs) as autoinducers.

Quorum sensing of Gram-negative cells
Quorum sensing of Gram-negative cells (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Many species of bacteria (both saprophytic and pathogenic) use this method to coordinate gene expression according to the density of their local population. Examples include:

  1. B. fragilis
  2. M. tuberculosis
  3. Vibrio species  (Vibrio fischeri, Vibrio cholerae)
  4. Clostridium perfringens
  5. Staphylococcus aureus
  6. Bacillus cereus
  7. Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  8. Salmonella species
  9. Rhizobium leguminosarum


  1. Miller, M. B., & Bassler, B. L. (2001). Quorum sensing in bacteria. Annual review of microbiology, 55, 165–199. 
  2. Rutherford, S. T., & Bassler, B. L. (2012). Bacterial quorum sensing: its role in virulence and possibilities for its control. Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine, 2(11), a012427.

Acharya Tankeshwar

Hello, thank you for visiting my blog. I am Tankeshwar Acharya. Blogging is my passion. As an asst. professor, I am teaching microbiology and immunology to medical and nursing students at PAHS, Nepal. I have been working as a microbiologist at Patan hospital for more than 10 years.

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