How do bacteria adapt?
A fundamental prerequisite for life on earth is the ability of living organisms to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have now determined that the regulation mechanisms used by bacteria to adapt to different environments are based on a global control process that can be described in a single equation.
Environmental conditions like temperature, light, availability of nutrients and many other parameters are constantly changing on earth. Every organism and even every cell thus has myriad mechanisms for adapting to these changes.
One of the best researched examples is Escherichia coli, a bacterium that also lives in the intestines of humans. The supply of nutrients varies from hour to hour. To survive, the bacterium must have the ability to adapt to the changing conditions.
In 1965, Jacques Monod received the Nobel Prize for his proof that bacteria adapt by producing different proteins. For example, they synthesize an enzyme for breaking down lactose when the readily available nutrients contain this milk sugar.
However, despite great interest and massive research efforts over more than half a century, the biochemical details of this complicated regulatory mechanism are still not fully explained and understood.