07/24/2015

Bacterial Hunger Games

8:21 minutes

University of California, San Diego biologists imaged oscillations (shown as colored contour lines) from a growing biofilm (at center). Image by Suel lab, UC San Diego
University of California, San Diego biologists imaged oscillations (shown as colored contour lines) from a growing biofilm (at center). Image by Suel lab, UC San Diego

Bacteria living in colonies band together to fend off attackers and survive, like soldiers and peasants in fortresses, says Gürol Süel, a molecular biologist at the University of California, San Diego. Time and again, they resist our attempts to destroy them. But what if we’re going about it all wrong? Instead of dousing infectious microbes in antibiotics, what if we pit them against each other, in a type of bacterial Hunger Games? Suel, who probed these colony dynamics in a Nature study out this week, explains how bacterial societies work—and how we might curb their odds of surviving.

Segment Guests

Gürol Süel

Gürol Süel is an associate professor of molecular biology at the University of California, San Diego.

Meet the Producers

About Alexa Lim

Alexa Lim is a producer for Science Friday. Her favorite stories involve space, sound, and strange animal discoveries.

About Elah Feder

Elah Feder is co-host and producer of Undiscovered. She’s also Science Friday’s resident Canadian.