Apr 8, 2009

Bonnie Bassler: Molecular biologist

Why you should listen to her:
In 2002, bearing her microscope on a microbe that lives in the gut of fish, Bonnie Bassler uncovered an elusive molecule called AI-2. Doing so, she vindicated the long-ridiculed idea that bacteria communicate -- through a process called quorum sensing. (Bassler calls the signals "bacterial Esperanto," and they’re the secret behind some fascinating behavior.)

The discovery shows how cell populations use chemical powwows to stage attacks, evade immune systems and forge slimy defenses called biofilms. For that, she's won a MacArthur "genius" grant -- and is giving new hope to frustrated pharmacos seeking new weapons against drug-resistant superbugs.

Bassler teaches molecular biology at Princeton, where she continues her years-long study of V. harveyi, one such social microbe that is mainly responsible for glow-in-the-dark sushi. She also teaches aerobics at the YMCA.

"She's really the one who's shown that this is something that all these bacteria are doing all the time. And if we want to understand them, we have to understand quorum sensing."
- Ned Wingreen, Princeton, on Nova ScienceNOW

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