Bacterial intelligence: Microorganisms possess memory-storing abilities

Study reveals bacteria's astonishing memory-passing capabilities


Bacteria possess the ability to store memories and pass them on to future generations. This finding by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin sheds light on the intricate strategies employed by bacteria, including the development of antibiotic resistance and the formation of dangerous infections.

Published in the esteemed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study reveals that bacteria utilize a common chemical element, iron, to record and transmit information about different behaviors. The lead author of the study, Souvik Bhattacharyya, explained that although bacteria lack brains, they possess the remarkable capacity to gather information from their surroundings. If they encounter a particular environment frequently, they can store and access that information later, reaping significant benefits.

Iron, being one of the most abundant elements on Earth, plays a pivotal role in this process. The researchers noted that singular bacteria with varying levels of iron exhibited distinct behaviors. Bacterial cells with lower iron levels displayed enhanced swarming capabilities, while those with higher iron levels formed biofilms, dense and sticky mats of bacteria on solid surfaces. Additionally, bacteria with balanced iron levels demonstrated antibiotic tolerance.

Remarkably, these iron memories can persist for up to four generations before gradually fading away by the seventh generation, according to the study. Bhattacharyya emphasized the significance of iron in the origin and evolution of cellular life on Earth. "Before there was oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere, early cellular life was utilizing iron for a lot of cellular processes. It makes sense that cells would utilize it in this way," he explained.

The implications of this discovery are far-reaching, offering potential applications in preventing and combating bacterial infections, particularly those involving antibiotic-resistant strains. By understanding the mechanisms behind bacterial behavior, researchers can develop targeted therapeutics that disrupt the iron-related memory storage and manipulation process.

"Iron levels are definitely a target for therapeutics because iron is an important factor in virulence. Ultimately, the more we know about bacterial behavior, the easier it is to combat them," Bhattacharyya asserted.

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