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Dr. E. Peter Greenberg is a professor at the University of Washington, where he runs the Greenberg Lab. His research revolves primarily around something you may not have even heard of: quorum sensing. Simply put, quorum sensing is the ability of an individual to sense how many of its kin are in its environment. Since an individual microbe such as a bacterium can’t accomplish much on its own, having the ability to detect when it’s in the presence of others of its kind is critical. “When an individual bacterium first invades a host, it can’t show all of its weapons until the troops have amassed…and when there are enough bacteria to overwhelm the host’s ability to respond, they coordinately generate these virulence factors,” explains Dr. Greenberg. He goes on to explain how exactly bacteria detect the density of others in their environment and therefore respond in coordinated fashion at the appropriate time. On today’s episode, he discusses the details of all this and more, including antibiotic resistance and the ability of bacteria to transfer genes from one to another, the effect of nutrient availability and temperature on bacteria, and how developments in this field could lead to therapeutic applications.

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