September 18, 2012
Populations of ocean bacteria have a few designated fighters, which release antibiotics that don’t harm their own community.
BOB HIRSHON (host):
Microbial militaries. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.
Some ocean bacteria rely on a few good microbes to wage war and defend the community. MIT evolutionary ecologist Martin Polz and his colleagues reported this in the journal Science. Polz says that within colonies of saltwater bacteria called Vibrio, only a handful of individuals produce antibiotics. Those antibiotics kill bacteria from competing populations, but their own communities are immune to them.
MARTIN POLZ (Massachusetts Institute of Technology):
They’re specialized defenders, if you will, within the population, that take on a special role that benefits the group. What we talk about then, is that an antibiotic that’s produced within the population is, in a way, a public good.
That kind of a social structure wasn’t expected in these single-celled organisms. The question now is whether different bacteria in the community perform other specialized jobs. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.