Human Psychology & Bacteria Intelligence


Illustration from Seed magazine

It is inevitable that we learn about human psychology from other living creatures. It is proving that bacteria is a source of rich insights and an incredible wealth of scientific learning and understanding. This will proceed assuming that we put our arrogance and high place in the universe aside and look at what is really here before us. Our understanding of the consciousness surrounding us is just beginning and in our humility we will mine deeper into the fact that species ecology is our lifeblood as much as the red blood in our own veins. Human focus on the here and now and developing an ethics of living creatures. rlw

Social Behavior of Bacteria

In the early 90’s, Ben-Jacob’s group discovered two bacteria strains [29][30][31] – the Paenibacillus dendritiformis and the Paenibacillus vortex (see also Paenibacillus )- that are recognized by many as the two most fascinating pattern-forming bacteria species. Combining microbiological experiments with physical principles of self-organization and advanced modeling [32][33][34], Ben-Jacob revealed many “secrets” of bacteria and became a world influential figure in promoting the recognition that bacteria are smart cooperative organisms [35][36][37][38][39][40][41][42][43][44][45][46] that employ advanced communication to lead intricate social lives in large and complex colonies. Sophisticated chemical communication allows bacteria to rapidly adapt to changes in the environment, distribute tasks, “learn from experience”, make decisions and prepare for the future 11. Ben-Jacob put forward the idea of bacterial social intelligence and his group devised a social IQ score of bacteria as a comparative genomic tool to assess the genome potential of bacteria to conduct successful cooperative and adaptable behaviors, or social behaviors, in complex environments 1.

Multi-agent Swarming

Inspired by Ben-Jacob’s observations of how bacteria can spontaneously order their motion during collective swarming, the groups of T. Vicsek and Ben-Jacob devised a simple model able to generate non-equilibrium states that violate the usual physics theorems for equilibrium states [47]. This work has led to the creating of a new field of multi-agent swarming (swarming intelligence) as it explains the foundations of a wide variety of phenomena ranging from collective navigation (swarming intelligence) of bacteria [48], amoeba [49] and insects, to flocking of birds and schools of fish as well as to the design of autonomous vehicles capable of functional self-organization even in the absence of an overall omniscient controller. Using fratricide to fight bacteria: In 2000, Ben-Jacob’s group discovered a fascinating phenomenon of competition between two sibling bacteria colonies of the P. dendritiformis when inoculated side by side 1. Recent detailed studies of the phenomenon revealed that the two colonies not only inhibited each other from growing into the territory between them but induced the death of those cells close to the border 1. By employing molecular biology methods combined with the new genome sequencing information and bioinformatics, they discovered a new toxin (sibling lethal factor), which acts selectively only on the same bacterial strain 1. The findings suggest a new strategy for fighting bacteria by self-toxins they produce.

Bacterial Decision-Making

Building upon understanding he gained from research in neuroscience (the inhibition of inhibition principle), Ben-Jacob succeeded to break the code of bacterial decision-making. He and his collaborators discovered that the ingenious scheme is composed of a stochastic switch regulated by a timer with adaptable clock rate (that is adjusted by the cell stress) via a special decision-circuit composed of a cascade of inhibitions. The decision-circuits of the individual bacteria are coupled by exchange of chemical messages between the cells to guarantee collective decision for the group benefit 11.

from Wikipedia – Eshel Ben-Jacob


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