Scientists reveal bacteria have 'noses'

Common bacteria have "noses" that respond to smells, scientists said.

A study shows how certain bugs detect the presence of rivals by picking up whiffs of chemicals in the air.

The discovery means lowly bugs are now known to possess four of our familiar five senses.

They can "see" by responding to light, "feel" by reacting to physical touch, "taste" through direct contact with environmental chemicals, and "smell" by detecting airborne molecules. The only sense missing is hearing.

In laboratory tests, scientists found that two rival species of soil bacteria, Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus licheniformus, both reacted the same way to the smell of ammonia given off by the other.

Each bug began to generate biofilm, or "slime", whereby bacteria join together to colonise an area and push out any potential competitor.

The response decreased as the distance between the two bacterial colonies got bigger.

Ammonia is one of the simplest sources of nitrogen, a key nutrient for bacterial growth.

Professor Grant Burgess, director of the Dove Marine Laboratory at the University of Newcastle, said: "The sense of smell has been observed in many creatures, even yeasts and slime moulds, but our work shows for the first time that a sense of smell even exists in lowly bacteria.

"From an evolutionary perspective, we believe this may be the first example of how living creatures first learned to smell other living creatures.

"It is an early observation and much work is still to be done, but nevertheless, this is an important breakthrough which also shows how complex bacteria are and how they use a growing number of ways to communicate with each other.

"Bacterial infections kill millions of people every year, and discovering how your bacterial enemies communicate with each other is an important step in winning this war. This research provides clues to so far unknown ways of bacterial communication."

The research is published today in the Biotechnology Journal.

Dr Reindert Nijland, another member of the team, said although it was clear that the bugs responded to smell, what kind of "nose" they had was still unknown.

"The next step will be to identify the nose or sensor that actually does the smelling," he said.

Biofilm is a major source of infection caused by medical devices such as heart valves, artificial hips and breast implants.

It also costs the marine industry millions of pounds each year by slowing down ships and wasting fuel. On the other hand certain biofilms thrive on petroleum and can be used to clear up oil spills.

"Slime is important in medical and industrial settings, and the fact that the cells formed slime on exposure to ammonia has important implications for understanding how biofilms are formed," said Dr Nijland.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor