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Science and Technology

Signaling in Single-Celled Organisms

Tác giả: OpenStaxCollege

Within-cell signaling allows bacteria to respond to environmental cues, such as nutrient levels, some single-celled organisms also release molecules to signal to each other.

Signaling in Yeast

Yeasts are eukaryotes (fungi), and the components and processes found in yeast signals are similar to those of cell-surface receptor signals in multicellular organisms. Budding yeasts ([link]) are able to participate in a process that is similar to sexual reproduction that entails two haploid cells (cells with one-half the normal number of chromosomes) combining to form a diploid cell (a cell with two sets of each chromosome, which is what normal body cells contain). In order to find another haploid yeast cell that is prepared to mate, budding yeasts secrete a signaling molecule called mating factor. When mating factor binds to cell-surface receptors in other yeast cells that are nearby, they stop their normal growth cycles and initiate a cell signaling cascade that includes protein kinases and GTP-binding proteins that are similar to G-proteins.

Budding Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast cells can communicate by releasing a signaling molecule called mating factor. In this micrograph, they are visualized using differential interference contrast microscopy, a light microscopy technique that enhances the contrast of the sample.

Signaling in Bacteria

Signaling in bacteria enables bacteria to monitor extracellular conditions, ensure that there are sufficient amounts of nutrients, and ensure that hazardous situations are avoided. There are circumstances, however, when bacteria communicate with each other.

The first evidence of bacterial communication was observed in a bacterium that has a symbiotic relationship with Hawaiian bobtail squid. When the population density of the bacteria reaches a certain level, specific gene expression is initiated, and the bacteria produce bioluminescent proteins that emit light. Because the number of cells present in the environment (cell density) is the determining factor for signaling, bacterial signaling was named quorum sensing. In politics and business, a quorum is the minimum number of members required to be present to vote on an issue.

Quorum sensing uses autoinducers as signaling molecules. Autoinducers are signaling molecules secreted by bacteria to communicate with other bacteria of the same kind. The secreted autoinducers can be small, hydrophobic molecules such as acyl-homoserine lactone, (AHL) or larger peptide-based molecules; each type of molecule has a different mode of action. When AHL enters target bacteria, it binds to transcription factors, which then switch gene expression on or off ([link]). The peptide autoinducers stimulate more complicated signaling pathways that include bacterial kinases. The changes in bacteria following exposure to autoinducers can be quite extensive. The pathogenic bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa has 616 different genes that respond to autoinducers.

Some species of bacteria that use quorum sensing form biofilms, complex colonies of bacteria (often containing several species) that exchange chemical signals to coordinate the release of toxins that will attack the host. Bacterial biofilms ([link]) can sometimes be found on medical equipment; when biofilms invade implants such as hip or knee replacements or heart pacemakers, they can cause life-threatening infections.

Research on the details of quorum sensing has led to advances in growing bacteria for industrial purposes. Recent discoveries suggest that it may be possible to exploit bacterial signaling pathways to control bacterial growth; this process could replace or supplement antibiotics that are no longer effective in certain situations.

Section Summary

Yeasts and multicellular organisms have similar signaling mechanisms. Yeasts use cell-surface receptors and signaling cascades to communicate information on mating with other yeast cells. The signaling molecule secreted by yeasts is called mating factor.

Bacterial signaling is called quorum sensing. Bacteria secrete signaling molecules called autoinducers that are either small, hydrophobic molecules or peptide-based signals. The hydrophobic autoinducers, such as AHL, bind transcription factors and directly affect gene expression. The peptide-based molecules bind kinases and initiate signaling cascades in the cells.

Art Connections

[link] Which of the following statements about quorum sensing is false?

  1. Autoinducer must bind to receptor to turn on transcription of genes responsible for the production of more autoinducer.
  2. The receptor stays in the bacterial cell, but the autoinducer diffuses out.
  3. Autoinducer can only act on a different cell: it cannot act on the cell in which it is made.
  4. Autoinducer turns on genes that enable the bacteria to form a biofilm.

[link] C.

[link] What advantage might biofilm production confer on the S. aureus inside the catheter?

[link] S. aureus produces a biofilm because the higher cell density in the biofilm permits the formation of a dense surface that helps protect the bacteria from antibiotics.

Review Questions

Which type of molecule acts as a signaling molecule in yeasts?

  1. steroid
  2. autoinducer
  3. mating factor
  4. second messenger

Quorum sensing is triggered to begin when ___________.

  1. treatment with antibiotics occurs
  2. bacteria release growth hormones
  3. bacterial protein expression is switched on
  4. a sufficient number of bacteria are present

Free Response

What characteristics make yeasts a good model for learning about signaling in humans?

Why is signaling in multicellular organisms more complicated than signaling in single-celled organisms?

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