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Memory in microbes: quantifying history-Dependent behavior in a bacterium.

  • Author(s): Wolf, Denise M.
  • et al.
Abstract

Memory is usually associated with higher organisms rather than bacteria. However, evidence is mounting that many regulatory networks within bacteria are capable of complex dynamics and multi-stable behaviors that have been linked to memory in other systems. Moreover, it is recognized that bacteria that have experienced different environmental histories may respond differently to current conditions. These "memory" effects may be more than incidental to the regulatory mechanisms controlling acclimation or to the status of the metabolic stores. Rather, they may be regulated by the cell and confer fitness to the organism in the evolutionary game it participates in. Here, we propose that history-dependent behavior is a potentially important manifestation of memory, worth classifying and quantifying. To this end, we develop an information-theory based conceptual framework for measuring both the persistence of memory in microbes and the amount of information about the past encoded in history-dependent dynamics. This method produces a phenomenological measure of cellular memory without regard to the specific cellular mechanisms encoding it. We then apply this framework to a strain of Bacillus subtilis engineered to report on commitment to sporulation and degradative enzyme (AprE) synthesis and estimate the capacity of these systems and growth dynamics to 'remember' 10 distinct cell histories prior to application of a common stressor. The analysis suggests that B. subtilis remembers, both in short and long term, aspects of its cell history, and that this memory is distributed differently among the observables. While this study does not examine the mechanistic bases for memory, it presents a framework for quantifying memory in cellular behaviors and is thus a starting point for studying new questions about cellular regulation and evolutionary strategy.

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