The Small-Molecule Language of Dynamic Microbial Interactions.
Although microbes are routinely grown in monocultures in the laboratory, they are almost never encountered as single species in the wild. Our ability to detect and identify new microorganisms has advanced significantly in recent years, but our understanding of the mechanisms that mediate microbial interactions has lagged behind. What makes this task more challenging is that microbial alliances can be dynamic, consisting of multiple phases. The transitions between phases, and the interactions in general, are often mediated by a chemical language consisting of small molecules, also referred to as secondary metabolites or natural products. In this microbial lexicon, the molecules are like words and through their effects on recipient cells they convey meaning. The current review highlights three dynamic microbial interactions in which some of the words and their meanings have been characterized, especially those that mediate transitions in selected multiphasic associations. These systems provide insights into the principles that govern microbial symbioses and a playbook for interrogating similar associations in diverse ecological niches.