Quarum Sensing, The Ancient Art of Democracy

Quorum Sensing Bacteria, The United States Congress, Virulence and Pathogenicity  A Not Novel Way to Govern

©  2011 Guy Herman All Rights Reserved


Many people, as common consensus reports, see congress, democracies worldwide and as an institution paralyzed and unable to move or succeed.

But there are wildly successful and billion year old cultures whose activity seems to suggest otherwise.

There are, likely no congress people who only at the time of passage of any given bill have the thought to enact civil rights, make war or deliver universal healthcare, and similarly, there is no time, generally that some of the elements of the common cold, the H1N1 flu or even aids and food poisoning don’t live in the body corporate of the human being.

Like most organic systems, only upon the massing and bi-lateral colony wide assessment of there being sufficient quantities, in congressional terms, a plurality, to make the person sick, impose the infestation, waste the body or pass the law or ordinance or regulation is it then that these phylogenetic colony wide changes occur.

While we used to be able to mobilize for war, the moon, education, a better life, The US congress appears hopelessly mired in a paralysis as Americans have not known since the civil war and one which has brought the public sentiment not far from riot, civil commotion and an anger outright, we know historically, evoked the same kinds of feelings, if not magnitudes that proceed revolutions and the shot heard round the world.

Let’s look for a moment at our biological past and see the difference and sameness with our bacterial 2 billion year old precursors who, till this day outnumber us and live, by many standards, a more healthy and fruitful lifestyle.

Bacteria can double and redouble at will, even, some may say, without will as it is as close to autonomic as the word, on its most fundamental level might mean.

Bacteria thrive when alone, or together. They can live at 30,000 feet below sea level on sulfur emissions, without light and at 30,000 feet above sea level on the highest of alpine lichen strewn cavity or, many would now say, on the moon and fed with only light.

Bacteria many say have mastered the art of survival, can live symbiotically, in clusters, colonies, by themselves and or in groups and most extraordinary and unlike the human condition, can act, as necessary and as befits their phylogenetic whole, in unison to get or have the object of their quarry or hunt for colonization hopes and dreams. Bacteria are smart enough to have or get everything they may want in life.

Unlike the more sophisticated human, the only paralysis bacteria suffer is unbelievably recognized in advance and may be an arctic winter of hibernation, the circadian rhythm of a squid waiting for daylight or dark to multiply or grow and all or any of the evils of poor diet in the human host, a lack of industrial hygiene in our cities and cultures. Bacteria live and thrive and make conquest when they want and are more or less fulfilled and indestructible.

Neanderthal thrived, in struggle, for 200,000 years and homo sapiens, ourselves, have had more or less another 100,000 years at bat, but by even the most conservative accounts, we have effected global warming, ruined our habitat, been reckless with our food supplies, endangered many of the lesser species upon whom we depend for our food supplies, clogged the air which we breathe which by all accounts is essential and worse have polluted, and or outgrown our sources of clean water to a point which, more dire than losing our oil supplies, will, sooner than later cause some 2 billion of us to go with an unslaked thirst.


Bacteria have learned the art of quorum sensing and the mechanism to become pathogenic, a fancy way to say, bacterium are smart enough to know what they want, to wait until they are ready, and when of sufficient power and strength, they amass, like Napoleon at the gates of Helena and take over the body corporeal or whatever is their choice and but for a dwindling supply of increasingly less effective antibiotics, we are helpless to stop their indomitable march.

Pathogenicity or virulence, truly is a characterization of simply having what it is one wants.

To the 10,000,000 turkeys we slaughter in the days preceding Thanksgiving, they say we, humans are virulent and our pathogen, the butchers knife or slaughter house is indefatigable.

So too do we describe the body wasting and deadly effects of the AIDS virus or H1N1 or the plague, but in truth, it is no more or less than a colony of critters, humans or bacterium, having their way and getting what it is they want.

A colony of bacteria may so say similarly, when we try to kill, maim, or injure it’s corporeal integrity with the deadly toxin of the antibiotic but in truth, no more or less a hurt and foul on the less strong organism, the bacterium, single celled and 2 billion years old is way more adept at survival and evolutionary gain or adaptation than are, those with the largest cerebral cortex and mass of all the species great and small.


How can one reasonably explain the most well endowed of all the creatures as the weakest and least likely to survive, or certainly if not unlikely, between our own efforts to kill ourselves with nuclear winter, cigarettes or toxins of blood borne pathogens, and where is the reasoning that supports the apparent fact of the smartest being, in the end, the dumbest, the least likely to succeed, the most likely to fail, and if all of that is even reasonably true, how does this relate to our congress and some fundamental biological failure or weakness for which neither Darwin nor god had pre engineered or planned.


Surprisingly, in the very lexicon of our daily language is the answer and it is as simple as shocking, and curiously reparable.

Quorum sensing, a delicate and nearly inscrutable art, though some would argue science, is both the process and ability to speak and to hear, to articulate, enunciate and to act, all actions we understand and isolated, not even difficult for the neonate human, but to do so in concert, to do so as it serves the commonwealth, the colony the group is the operative word and key to the process of sensing the mood, state, aspiration, need or fact of the quorum and setting aside one’s own idiosyncratic agenda, subordinating the individual will to the collective, a two step dance, first listening, and then, on cue, falling in line, joining in, signing up, becoming a part of or party to, all attributes we lack today, describes at once the success of bacteria enjoy and the atrocity of the paralysis seen in Washington.

Bacteria control their own pathogenicity. We unfortunately and increasingly as humans, do not. And Pathogenicity for those of us more familiar with English is simply the act to enact the scope or terms of our collective wishes and get what we want.

This is a fact and is proven by the current science of biology which can show, empirically, with radiology, laserscopic inquiry or microscopic veracity individual units of what collectively are deadly bacteria live in and amongst us all, always.

Holding that thought, let us remember that pathogenicity is a scientists fancy word for saying, ‘I want what I want and when I am ready, I will get it’.

Saving pennies as it takes dollars to make a purchase, collecting neighbors to remove a tree or raise a barn roof as one alone may not be so endowed, raising armies to destroy or conquer villainous neighbors and or simply, as in our colonial past, to take what they have because we want what they got, is an act of pathogenicity, an act affirmative in the outcome of getting the conqueror what they want at the cost of the conquered.

Bacteria do this when they infect a body, turn dead stuff into mushrooms, infest living cells into unallied bodies and humans do this when they wreak their will upon another, a group, a cow to slaughter, a field of wheat to the scythe for bread, or the living forest into two by fours.

Pathogenicity is something we have done all of our lives, and is no more or less than the strong surviving as they get what they want, and are smart enough to do it effectively and typically in groups.

Pathogenicity may be the scourge of aids, but too it may be the havoc and ruin made by the United States in Iraq or the salvation of Europe from the scourge of Hitler’s virulence, again, all contingent upon whether you are the victor or the vanquished.

So the real question is, how is it that bacteria so often get what they want, can affect their pathogenicity when they want, and we Americans, big brained and thick headed are so stuck in the mud.

Bacteria have a universal healthcare, since they know, by direct and chemical communication their best chance of a meal, of a vanquishment, of a growth spurt is when they act in common and only when they are of sufficient number to so act.

Bacteria speak, carefully assessing the circumstances of their environment and collectively make the very astute and almost always successful judgment about when their numbers are sufficient to win, to become the pathogen to which their lives are dedicated, to prevail in the biological outcome for which they were born.

Humans, increasingly, and at least in this country or ours, have no such origination and or luck.

It is no mistake bacteria are ubiquitous but only act in concert and as circumstances dictate so to insure a satisfactory outcome.

It is a mistake however that humans, in our country increasingly do not possess this complex skill and indeed, more than acting alone, they seem, if we take the acts and or omissions of congress as artifact, they affirmatively do not want to act together.

It even appears as if there is a biological mistake in evolutionary selection when one watches the actions of our congress since as all know it takes action in unison to move the flock of birds, produce sufficient toxins for a bacteria, survive in an unwilling host and thrive, or pass legislation that is for the common good, we have lost the natural selection of bettering ourselves and indeed seem to be bent, willy nilly on a path of self destruction, a pathogenicity, like the lemmings and Neanderthal that ultimately provides the basis for our decline, for our failure, for our not having the collective will or strength of will to act together, in a colony and be of a pathogenic threshold of strength so to feed our young, prevent the overrun of bacteria in our food or water supplies and in general live a peaceful, healthy and harmonious life.

Quorum sensing, the words that describe how millions or trillions or just hundreds of bacteria know, of each other and of their readiness to act, organize and move or kill or infect or get lunch, is a sensory feedback critical to the colonial movement and assemblage of disparate populations, and our governmental employees, the worker bees to whom we have entrusted the pathogenicity of our wants and needs which seems, unwittingly too have fallen prey to a viral infection, a colony collapse disorder, preventing them from hearing or reading or sensing the signals of a common readiness to act, and as a result are paralyzed, and as a result the body politic may die.


If the quorum sensing mechanisms of the body politic cannot work, if they malfunction so, metaphorically, if the heart cells didn’t know they were not to be eye or foot cells and all are trying to be brain cells or sex cells, then clearly the whole body is deaf to its needs and at risk of death (the anarchy of cellular quorum sensing) and a certain decline.


Curiously, and most improbably, the anti-dote for our human inability to sense and reply to the quorums dictate is not nearly as complex as the increasingly complicated and esoteric strains required to stop the growing virulence and pathogenicity of the very smart bacterium whose lessons we have yet to learn, rather, it is the simple act and process of listening, speaking, and finally being able to act, when appropriate, together.