Bacterial self–organization: co–enhancement of complexification and adaptability in a dynamic environment

Eshel Ben-Jacob


During colonial development, bacteria generate a wealth of patterns, some of which are reminiscent of those occurring in abiotic systems. They can exhibit rich behaviour, reflecting informative communication capabilities that include exchange of genetic materials and the fact that the colony's building blocks are biotic. Each has internal degrees of freedom, informatic capabilities and freedom to respond by altering itself and others via emission of signals in a self–regulated manner.

To unravel the special secrets of bacterial self–organization, we conducted an integrative (experimental and theoretical) study of abiotic and biotic systems. Guided by the notion of general biotic motives and principles, I propose that the informative communication between individuals makes possible the enhancement of the individuals' regulated freedom, while increasing their cooperation. This process is accomplished via cooperative complexification of the colony through self–organization of hierarchical spatio–temporal patterning. The colonial higher complexity provides the degree of plasticity and flexibility required for better colonial adaptability and endurability in a dynamic environment. The biotic system can modify the environment and obtain environmental information for further self–improvement. I reflect on the potential applications of the new understanding on ‘engineered self–organization of systems too complex to design’ and other issues.