Rainbow Signals

Science Signaling  02 Sep 2008:
Vol. 1, Issue 35, pp. ec312
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.135ec312

Many microorganisms produce antibiotics that kill other microbes. Indeed, human beings and other organisms have become adept at exploiting these natural products to guard themselves from infection. But it seems these substances are not just disinfectant waste products; there are hints that some have quite specific functions, for example, in facilitating the uptake of metals. Dietrich et al. analyzed the production of antibiotic pigments called phenazines from two classes of bacteria, pseudomonads and actinomycetes, and found that the pigments play important roles as signaling molecules in regulating the structure of the microbial community. This activity seems to be mediated via the SoxR regulon, classically thought to be a mediator of oxidative stress responses.

L. E. P. Dietrich, T. K. Teal, A. Price-Whelan, D. K. Newman, Redox-active antibiotics control gene expression and community behavior in divergent bacteria. Science 321, 1203-1206 (2008). [Abstract] [Full Text]