Vallee Visiting Professor Bonnie Bassler, PhD, (Princeton University and HHMI), will receive the Gruber Genetics Prize on April 23 for her groundbreaking work on quorum sensing. The $500,000 prize recognizes how bacteria "talk" to each other. Her discoveries have greatly expanded our understanding of the microbial world and opened up innovative approaches to promoting health and preventing disease.
Working first with Vibrio harveyi, a bioluminescent marine bacterium, and then with other bacterial species, Bassler has identified and described how these one-celled organisms send out molecular messages, or autoinducers, that enable them to count their numbers, determine when they’ve reached a critical cell density, and then simultaneously adjust their behavior to carry out group tasks, such as emitting light (in the case of V. harveyi) or releasing toxins (in the case of bacterial pathogens). More recently, Bassler and her team reported that bacteria-infecting viruses, known as phages, can eavesdrop on bacterial quorum-sensing conversations and then use the information they garner to their own advantage. This finding reveals that chemical signaling occurs across radically different domains.