This is a fascinating article about how behavior at different levels of organization show strong parallels.
“Humans in solitary confinement can go crazy, talking to themselves and
trying to break free. Now scientists from New Mexico and New Hampshire
are reporting that bacteria locked in solitary confinement know they
are locked up, talk to themselves, and try to break free of their
Scientists trapped a single Staphylococcus aureus bacterium in a glass case essentially 20 micrometers wide, and watched to see what the organism would do when it “realized” was trapped.
We may have a hard time thinking about self awareness in bacteria, but these organism do have chemical feedback mechanism that allow them to capture information about the environment very much the way we do.
And a bacterium trapped in a glass case is quickly able to detect that is it alone. This is because these organisms have evolved to be communal, living in colonies, with other bacteria. They have evolved a chemical communication system called quorum sensing. It was assumed that when bacteria change behavior by switching their genes on or off, it was only in response to chemical communication in a colony.
The experiment showed that the trapped bacterium reacted by releasing lysosomes. These are organelles that can digest organic material. In the real world, this would be a good strategy because a bacterium would most likely be trapped in tissue or another cell. Releasing lysosomes should help it get out.
The experiment was designed to study communication behavior of a disease causing bacteria.
But it makes me wonder, what it says about human beings, and our notion of being “special and different” when a lowly bacterium behaves much the same as we would when trapped.
Even Bacteria Get Lonely