Away with the bad cliché: bacterial complexity is often underestimated
With the new Priority Program „Emergent Functions of Bacterial Multicellularity“ (SPP 2389), spokesperson Thorsten Mascher, Professor of Microbiology at TU Dresden, aims at understanding the importance and development of multicellularity and differentiated microbial tissues in bacteria. Thus, the new priority program aims at bringing about a paradigm shift in microbiology: bacteria are preferentially multicellular organisms. The project is one of thirteen priority programs approved by the Senate of the German Research Foundation (DFG) this week. The funding amounts to about six million euros for the first three years with a total duration of six years (2022-2028).
Since the founding of classical bacteriology in the mid-19th century by Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur, little has changed in the perception of microbes, the so-called prokaryotes, which lack a cell nucleus: Bacteria are still considered to be tiny, single-celled, and simple organisms. They are thus opposed to the „higher“ organisms, the so-called eukaryotes, which are equipped with a nucleus. Eukaryotes are characterized by a high degree of differentiation of their complex and multicellular species, first and foremost, of course, the animals and plants. Despite this perception, during the development of life on earth, multicellularity is of bacterial origin. So far, however, their investigation has failed due to the technological limitations, since bacterial cells are much smaller than the cells of higher organisms. This is where SPP2389 comes in: The biophysical properties, physiological functions, as well as the evolutionary origin of multicellularity in microorganisms will be studied in detail using state-of-the-art, high-resolution optical and chemical analytical methods and highly interdisciplinary approaches. In addition to a fundamental understanding of the biological principles and molecular mechanisms governing self-organization and interaction in microbial tissues, the expected gain in knowledge also holds application potential: for example, for combating antibiotic resistance in bacterial communities or for developing „productive biofilms“ for technical biocatalysis.
„We want to free the microbes we appreciate so much from the bad cliché of being boring, tiny and inconspicuous unicellular organisms, which at most attract attention as germs of diseases. This SPP is about nothing less than initiating a paradigm shift in the perception of microorganisms, which will hopefully also be reflected in future textbooks: Bacterial life is preferentially multicellular and complexly differentiated,“ is how microbiologist and SPP spokesperson Prof. Thorsten Mascher explains the project.
Fig. legend: “Microbial tissue”: two complex and fully differentiated bacterial colonies “meet” on a nutrient plate. Bacillus subtilis to the left, a so far uncharacterized streptomycete on the right; both had just been isolated from a soil sample during an advanced lab course.
Contact for scientific information:
Chair of General Microbiology