Bacteria and the time-sharing strategy

Timesharing, researchers have found, isn’t only for vacation properties. While the idea of splitting getaway condos in exotic destinations among various owners has been popular in real estate for decades, biologists at University of California San Diego and at UPF have discovered that communities of bacteria have been employing a similar strategy for millions of years.

The team, which included UPF professor Jordi García-Ojalvo, asked what neighbouring communities of bacteria might do when food becomes scarce. The researchers found that bacteria faced with limited nutrients will enter an elegant timesharing strategy in which communities alternate feeding periods to maximize efficiency in consumption. The study has been published in Science.

“What’s interesting here is that you have these simple, single-celled bacteria that are tiny and seem to be lonely creatures, but in a community, they start to exhibit very dynamic and complex behaviors you would attribute to more sophisticated organisms or a social network,” says Gürol Süel, associate director of the San Diego Center for Systems Biology. “It’s the same timesharing concept used in computer science, vacation homes, and a lot of social applications.”

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