Helen Blackwell, class of 1994, is co-editor with Clay Fuqua of 2011 Bacterial Signals and Chemical Communication, special issue of Chemical Reviews [access on the American Chemical Society site is limited to subscribers]. Their editorial, Introduction to Bacterial Signals and Chemical Communication, is a cogent and easily understood explanation of the ability of bacteria to communicate through the release of chemical compounds. A significant aspect of this communication is known as "quorum sensing" - that is, releasing certain compounds in response to the density of bacterial cells and other environmental factors, which facilitates coordination among bacteria so they can more "effectively colonize and manipulate host organisms." The mechanisms for chemical signaling between bacteria species and among bacteria and host species are complex and varied, as evident from the different review articles in this special issue, and the implications for human health are exciting.
The editors conclude, "Understanding these processes [of bacterial conversation] provides the opportunity for scientists to intervene in the conversation and guide it in specific directions that potentially mollify the negative activities of microorganisms and promote the their beneficial attributes."