Bacteria can pass on 'memory' to descendants, study says

A new study suggests that bacteria pass on "memory" to descendants using a rhythmic pattern of biological processes.

Tyler MacDonald | Apr 06, 2018

A team of scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles discovered that bacteria pass on "memories" of sensory knowledge from one generation to the next. Even more fascinating is the fact that this is done without a central nervous system or neurons.

"This is a huge surprise to us and to the field," Gerard Wong, a UCLA professor who is a senior author on the study, said in a press release.

Wong and his team studied a bacteria strain calledPseudomonas aeruginosa, which forms biofilms in the airways of people with cystic fibrosis. These films are made of bacterial cells that are genetically identical and have the ability to colonize almost any surface.

"The first step in forming a biofilm is that bacteria must sense the surface and develop the ability to attach," said Calvin Lee, a UCLA graduate student and co-first author of the study. "For the first time, we were able to follow the behavior of entire lineages of individual cells, and we discovered that the descendants could remember the surface sensing signals of their ancestors."

The data revealed that bacteria use a rhythmic pattern of cyclic AMP expression and type IV pili activity to sense and remember.

"I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much can be learned about the decision-making process of bacteria during the early stages of biofilm formation by compiling a rigorous multiscale characterization of the system from the molecular level all the way up to the level of the biofilm," saidRamin Golestanian, a collaborating senior author of the study.

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.