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Lets talk: A story of interspecies communication

Posted by pcronald on 13 Dec 2011 at 17:30 GMT

It was Sept 4, 1939, the day after the UK declared war on Germany, when mathematician Alan Turing reported to work at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. Within weeks of his arrival, Turing and his colleagues were able to intercept high-level encrypted enemy communication signals and decode a vast number of these messages. The intelligence gleaned from this effort was passed on to field commanders, a process that was decisive to Allied victory.

Like the German military strategists, single-celled bacteria communicate with each other using coded messages to coordinate attacks on their targets. For bacteria these targets are plants and animals that provide the nutrients needed for growth. Until now, the diversity of codes employed by invading bacteria was thought to be extremely limited. However, our new research shows that bacteria communicate with a previously unknown signal. The research is described in two articles published today in the Public Library of Science and Discovery Medicine.

In a feat worthy of the Turing cryptographers, some plants have evolved a cypher-breaking detection system, called the XA21 receptor, that intercept the bacterial code and use this information to trigger a robust immune response, preventing disease.

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No competing interests declared.