Getting in Touch with Your Friends

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Science  29 May 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5931, pp. 1150-1151
DOI: 10.1126/science.1173088

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Microbes use a broad palette of chemical transformations to harvest energy and nutrients, but they do not always accomplish these conversions on their own. Particularly in anaerobic environments, various metabolisms are stimulated by, or depend upon, partnerships (1). In this form of interaction—termed syntrophy—one organism typically converts the primary resource to an intermediate that can be used by a partner (which perhaps passes it along to the next, and so on). In other cases, one partner may use a resource and provide a different type of service in return, such as a trace vitamin or motility. Recent studies are beginning to shed light on the mechanisms by which such partners communicate and interact and on how such interactions emerge in the first place.