Alternative Actions for Antibiotics

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Science  29 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6029, pp. 547-548
DOI: 10.1126/science.1205970

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Microbes generate signals, which coordinate mutually beneficial activities (1). They also produce antibiotics that kill prey, suppress competitors, or deter predators (2). Recent observations have led to the view that antibiotics often act as mutually beneficial signals (36). Exposure to sublethal concentrations of antibiotics can indeed alter microbial metabolism and even change behavior in beneficial ways, triggering reactions such as fleeing or hiding within the protective environment of a microbial aggregate (biofilm). But the weapon-signal dichotomy of functions for these compounds is a false one—there may be other possible information-related actions of naturally produced antibiotics: cues and manipulation.