Yin and Yang signaling molecules: they control the growth and behavior of bacteria

Bacteria control two signaling bacteria - Yin and Yang

The scientists consider bacteria to be material for survival experiments. They quickly react to environmental changes and adapt to them. Among other things, their adaptive response is based on two competing signaling molecules. The scientists from the University of Basel called them Yin and Yang, because their metabolic control determines the way of life of bacterial formations.

Bacteria owe their extraordinary ability to adapt quickly to these two molecules. Professors Urs Jenal and Tilman Schirmer found that bacteria use two chemically linked signaling molecules to adapt their lifestyle.


They investigated the antagonistic nature of the two signaling molecules ppGpp and c-di-GMP in the cell. It turned out that the bacteria can perform two different functions. She is able to be in a free floating form, not dividing, but being in a reproductive state.

The concentration of the two signaling molecules reflects both the lifestyle and the conditions in which the bacteria are found. It elicits a protein that binds Yin and Yang and acts as a molecular switch, keeping bacteria in check growth, lifestyle, and metabolism.

Both molecules are constantly competing to bind to this switch. When ppGpp is high, protein is active and glucose is consumed. And the resulting harmful oxygen radicals are effectively neutralized.


It ensures that metabolic reactions are adapted to the high demand of cells, preventing cell damage. The molecular switch also revealed another feature. It is associated with two large regulatory protein networks, which were previously thought to act independently of each other.

In fact, the hidden mechanism of Yin and Yang can play an important role in pathogens, being the key point in the resistance of bacteria to various factors, primarily antibiotics.

More information: Viktoriya Shyp et al, Reciprocal growth control by competitive binding of nucleotide second messengers to a metabolic switch in Caulobacter crescentus, Nature Microbiology (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41564-020-00809-4