Bacterial IQ, extroverts and introverts

Analysis of complete microbial genomes showed that intracellular parasites and other microorganisms that inhabit stable ecological niches encode relatively primitive signaling systems, whereas environmental microorganisms typically have sophisticated systems of environmental sensing and signal transduction.

The complexity of signaling systems differs even among closely related organisms. Still, it usually can be correlated with the phylogenetic position of the organism, its lifestyle, and typical environmental challenges it encounters. The number of encoded signal transducers (or their fraction in the total protein set) can be used as a measure of the organism’s ability to adapt to diverse conditions, the ‘bacterial IQ’, while the ratio of transmembrane receptors to intracellular sensors can be used to define whether the organism is an ‘extrovert’, actively sensing the environmental parameters, or an ‘introvert’, more concerned about its internal homeostasis. Some of the microorganisms with the highest IQ, including the current leader Wolinella succinogenes, are found among the poorly studied beta-, delta- and epsilon-proteobacteria. Among all bacterial phyla, only cyanobacteria appear to be true introverts, probably due to their capacity to conduct oxygenic photosynthesis, using a complex system of intracellular membranes. The census data, available at, can be used to get an insight into metabolic and behavioral propensities of each given organism and improve prediction of the organism’s properties based solely on its genome sequence.

BioMed Central
July 5, 2005

Original web page at BioMed Central