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Plan Ahead

If BACTERIA do it, you can too! Bacteria can anticipate a future event and prepare for it. A group of researchers in the US and Israel worked together to examine microorganisms living in environments that change in predictable ways. Their findings show that these microorganisms' genetic networks are hard-wired to "foresee" what comes next in the sequence of events and begin responding to the new state of affairs BEFORE it happens.

The scientists studied E. coli bacteria, which normally cruise harmlessly down the digestive tract, encountering a number of different environments on their way. They found that one type of sugar (lactose, the sugar in milk) is almost always followed by a second sugar called maltose soon afterwards. They checked the bacteria's genetic response to lactose and found that, in addition to the genes that enable it to digest lactose, the gene network for utilizing maltose was partially activated. When they switched the order of the sugars, giving the bacteria maltose first, there was no corresponding activation of lactose genes, implying that bacteria have naturally "learned" to get ready for a serving of maltose after a lactose appetizer.

Another microorganism that experiences consistent changes is wine yeast. As fermentation progresses, sugar and acidity levels change, alcohol levels rise, and the yeast's environment heats up. The scientists found that when the wine yeast feel the heat, they begin activating genes for dealing with the stresses of the next stage.

Art credit: Dreamstime.com

If YOU had planned ahead, you might have made it to our wonderful Dreamland Festival this year, but don't worry: We'll soon have a DVD of the Festival speeches for you (although we couldn't film Marla's psychic readings). There will be a special coupon available for people who DID attend and want to bring back more than good memories. And if we're still here next year, you can be sure we'll do it again!

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