cist, talk about V. fischeri, a bioluminescent marine bacterium he was studying.
Remarkably, the bacterium lit up only
when it found itself in a large group of
others of its species—in other words,
the bacteria were talking to one another
about when they should turn on their
lights. Bassler ran to the podium after
Silverman’s speech and begged him to
take her on as a postdoctoral fellow.
Luckily, he had the good sense to say
yes, and in the subsequent years Bassler
became one of the preeminent scientists
in the field of bacterial communication, or what is now known as quorum
sensing (QS). Among her most significant achievements is the revolutionary
discovery that bacteria talk not only with
members of their own species, but with
other bacterial species as well.
Bassler is quick to point out that she
didn’t invent the field; that honor, she says,
goes to John Woodland “Woody” Hast-
ings, a Harvard biologist who discovered
QS in the ;;;;s, and to Silverman, who
applied the tools of genetics to Hast-
ings’s discovery. Which isn’t to downplay
Bassler’s contributions. “Bonnie is the
world leader in the field of quorum sens-
ing,” says her Princeton colleague and
collaborator, Ned Wingreen, a theoretical
physicist. “She was responsible more than
anyone else for showing that QS wasn’t an
oddity, but was universal and hugely im-
portant for understanding all bacteria.” In
fact, there are literally thousands of spe-
cies that communicate via QS in order to
accomplish tasks that would be unproduc-
tive unless a kind of flash mob of bacteria
carried them out in synchrony.
Those tasks might be benign—the creation of bioluminescence in oceans, say—
or harmful—like making human beings
sick. Either way, there’s no doubt that QS
allows bacteria to do what they do best.
“If one bacterium dribbles out a couple
of molecules of a toxin,” notes Bassler, “it
doesn’t do anything to you. Your immune
system sees a red flag and it hunts the
bacterium down.” But if bacteria wait,
reaches a critical mass, they can launch
an attack that your immune system won’t
be able to defeat immediately—or ever.
Of course, bacteria don’t speak the way
we understand the term. Instead, they
produce specific molecules that Bassler
calls chemical words. Thanks to Bassler
and her team, we know that the microbial
lexicon contains at least three of these
words. One is used to communicate
among bacteria of the same species,
essentially saying, “You’re my identical
twin.” Another communicates among
all the bacteria in a biological family,
sending the message, “You’re my cousin,
but you’re not my twin.” A third speaks
to bacteria outside the family, stating,
“You’re a bacterium, but you’re other.”
As Bassler explains it, “The molecules
say how many bacteria are present, so
the bacteria are counting. But they’re
also distinguishing: Am I with my kin, or
am I with someone else?” Depending on
The Shakespeare Theatre of Ne w Jersey’s is an independent, professional theatre company located on the Drew University campus.
Programs are made possible, in part, by funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National
Endo wment for the Arts, as well as funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional major support is received from The Geraldine R. Dodge
Foundation, The F.M Kirby Foundation, The Edward T. Cone Foundation, The Shubert Foundation,Bank of America, The Samuel H. Scripps Foundation,
The CTW Foundation, and Dre w University, as well as contributions from numerous corporations, foundations, government agencies and individuals.
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
Based on the screenplay by
Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard
Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall
Directed by Bonnie J. Monte
Originally produced on the West End by Disney Theatrical Productions & Sonia
Friedman Productions, directed by Declan Donnellan, and designed by Nick Ormerod.
(973) 408-5600 | ShakespeareNJ.org
Performances begin October 11
Get your tickets now!
This exuberant theatrical “love letter” is based on the award-winning film and is no less a joy than
the original. Filled with music and a huge cast of colorful characters, the play introduces Will
Shakespeare as he struggles with writer’s block – and a forbidden romance with the woman who
inspires some of his greatest work. An epic Elizabethan extravaganza – rousing, funny, and a
beautiful homage to love, art and the Bard himself.