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Science 338 (6104): 264-266

Copyright © 2012 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Bacterial Quorum Sensing and Metabolic Incentives to Cooperate

Ajai A. Dandekar,1 Sudha Chugani,2 E. Peter Greenberg2,*

Abstract: The opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa uses a cell-cell communication system termed "quorum sensing" to control production of public goods, extracellular products that can be used by any community member. Not all individuals respond to quorum-sensing signals and synthesize public goods. Such social cheaters enjoy the benefits of the products secreted by cooperators. There are some P. aeruginosa cellular enzymes controlled by quorum sensing, and we show that quorum sensing–controlled expression of such private goods can put a metabolic constraint on social cheating and prevent a tragedy of the commons. Metabolic constraint of social cheating provides an explanation for private-goods regulation by a cooperative system and has general implications for population biology, infection control, and stabilization of quorum-sensing circuits in synthetic biology.

1 Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.
2 Department of Microbiology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.

* To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: epgreen{at}

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