Chemical Interactions between Organisms in Microbial Communities
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Bacteria live almost exclusively in communities with other microorganisms, and often in association with multicellular hosts. These communities are capable of maintaining complex structural and functional stability over time, and exhibit fascinating properties of resiliency in response to environmental changes. This is a result of interactions between microbes and the environment and amongst members of the community. A multitude of chemical interactions occur in microbial communities where primary and secondary metabolites contribute to a wealth of interactions between organisms. The chemicals include a variety of nutrients, toxic or neutral metabolic byproducts, antibiotics, and cell-cell signaling molecules. These chemical and physical signals facilitate microbial relationship that can be competitive, cooperative or neutral, and thus are responsible for determining community structure. In turn, the surrounding community changes the microenvironment of individual cells who respond to chemical and environmental cues in a combinatorial manner. Current laboratory understanding of the genetics and mechanisms of interactions between microbes has the power to help us understand how complex microbial communities behave in the natural environment. In this chapter we review the current understanding of microbial communication, from the genetic and molecular aspects, to our current understanding of their ecological role.
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