Short-range quorum sensing controls horizontal gene transfer at micron scale in bacterial communities

Jordi van Gestel*, Tasneem Bareia*, Bar Tenennbaum, Alma Dal Co, Polina Guler, Nitzan Aframian, Shani Puyesky, Ilana Grinberg, Glen G. D’Souza, Zohar Erez, Martin Ackermann, Avigdor Eldar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In bacterial communities, cells often communicate by the release and detection of small diffusible molecules, a process termed quorum-sensing. Signal molecules are thought to broadly diffuse in space; however, they often regulate traits such as conjugative transfer that strictly depend on the local community composition. This raises the question how nearby cells within the community can be detected. Here, we compare the range of communication of different quorum-sensing systems. While some systems support long-range communication, we show that others support a form of highly localized communication. In these systems, signal molecules propagate no more than a few microns away from signaling cells, due to the irreversible uptake of the signal molecules from the environment. This enables cells to accurately detect micron scale changes in the community composition. Several mobile genetic elements, including conjugative elements and phages, employ short-range communication to assess the fraction of susceptible host cells in their vicinity and adaptively trigger horizontal gene transfer in response. Our results underscore the complex spatial biology of bacteria, which can communicate and interact at widely different spatial scales.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2324
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2021


FundersFunder number
Ariane de Rothschild Women Doctoral Program
European Molecular Biology OrganizationALTF 1101-2016
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme724805
H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions742235, 31003A_169978, 310030_188642
European Research Council
Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung
Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule ZürichSEED-14-18-1, FEL-37-16-1
Eidgenössische Anstalt für Wasserversorgung Abwasserreinigung und Gewässerschutz


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