Friday, February 04, 2011

IQ Test for bacteria

Social IQ of bacteria
Another quick one here.  Interesting paper out in BMC Genomics: Genome sequence of the pattern forming Paenibacillus vortex bacterium reveals potential for thriving in complex environments

The paper is from Eshel-Ben Jacob and colleagues from many institutions around the world.

Here is a summary of the article (from the paper)

The pattern-forming bacterium Paenibacillus vortex is notable for its advanced social behavior, which is reflected in development of colonies with highly intricate architectures. Prior to this study, only two other Paenibacillus species (Paenibacillus sp. JDR-2 and Paenibacillus larvae) have been sequenced. However, no genomic data is available on the Paenibacillus species with pattern-forming and complex social motility. Here we report the de novo genome sequence of this Gram-positive, soil-dwelling, sporulating bacterium.
The complete P. vortex genome was sequenced by a hybrid approach using 454 Life Sciences and Illumina, achieving a total of 289× coverage, with 99.8% sequence identity between the two methods. The sequencing results were validated using a custom designed Agilent microarray expression chip which represented the coding and the non-coding regions. Analysis of the P. vortex genome revealed 6,437 open reading frames (ORFs) and 73 non-coding RNA genes. Comparative genomic analysis with 500 complete bacterial genomes revealed exceptionally high number of two-component system (TCS) genes, transcription factors (TFs), transport and defense related genes. Additionally, we have identified genes involved in the production of antimicrobial compounds and extracellular degrading enzymes.
These findings suggest that P. vortex has advanced faculties to perceive and react to a wide range of signaling molecules and environmental conditions, which could be associated with its ability to reconfigure and replicate complex colony architectures. Additionally, P. vortex is likely to serve as a rich source of genes important for agricultural, medical and industrial applications and it has the potential to advance the study of social microbiology within Gram-positive bacteria.

The organism is certainly interesting.  See for more detail (Eshel-Ben Jacob told me he updated the site).

But perhaps more interesting is the concept that Eshel-Ben Jacob has been pushing on bacterial social intelligence.  See for more detail:

The main idea behind this is to look at social communication strategies as a measure of intelligence.  And from a genomics point of view one can measure the genetic diversity of genes likely involved in these processes.  Such counting of genes is not the most useful thing in the world but more important, these organisms really have some fascinating behaviors and in the end we should measure behavior diversity not genomic diversity of putative social genes to measure "bacterial IQ". 

Sirota-Madi, A., Olender, T., Helman, Y., Ingham, C., Brainis, I., Roth, D., Hagi, E., Brodsky, L., Leshkowitz, D., Galatenko, V., Nikolaev, V., Mugasimangalam, R., Bransburg-Zabary, S., Gutnick, D., Lancet, D., & Ben-Jacob, E. (2010). Genome sequence of the pattern forming Paenibacillus vortex bacterium reveals potential for thriving in complex environments BMC Genomics, 11 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1471-2164-11-710


  1. Hmm. I think you probably have to consider the complexity of the regulatory network and the behavioral repertoire independently. It is possible to design very simple networks that govern very complex behavior, and visa versa. An Ethernet controller, for example, has about the same logical complexity as the Lac operon (give or take, it's not a perfect analogy).

    Also, I hate the idea of IQ, even applied to bacteria. Who is to say that Methanococcus isn't "smart" for living the simple life? The term just encourages silly thinking.

  2. Speaking of IQ and bacteria, I can already see certain faculty members pulling into the UCD parking lot with bumper stickers saying, "My model organism is an honor student at Defined Media Elementary School."

  3. Hello! What is the smartest bacteria in gut flora/in the food we eat? I did found that
    Paenibacillus lactis is in milk but is it smart bacteria? Best Regards Juha Starck/


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