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"Shocking" news about E. coli

The researchers say individual cells of E. coli produce spikes of electricity similar to the firing of neurons. Like all living organisms, E. coli uses voltage to communicate information. Before that, however, it is impossible to measure the voltage across a bacterial cell membrane.

Joel Kralj and his colleagues created a cocktail of fluorescent proteins that, like biological probes, can be used to measure the electrophysiology of living E. coli cells in an individual. The researchers call this new optical sensor PROPS; Surprisingly, they found that many bacterial cells flickered, some slowly, others rapidly, at a frequency on f about one Hertz. They said the spike in electrical activity in the scintillating E. coli cells lasted between one and 40 seconds and was sensitive to a range of physical and chemical disturbances.

kralj and his colleagues conducted a series of experiments and found that this electrical spike may be related to the opening of ion channels in these bacterial cells. In the future, their PROPS probes should be useful in determining the role of membrane potentials or voltages for a variety of bacteria of great significance in medicine, the environment, and industry.
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