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Pinto, Daniela and Mascher, Thorsten (2016): (Actino)Bacterial "intelligence": using comparative genomics to unravel the information processing capacities of microbes. In: Current Genetics, Vol. 62, No. 3: pp. 487-498

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Bacterial genomes encode numerous and often sophisticated signaling devices to perceive changes in their environment and mount appropriate adaptive responses. With their help, microbes are able to orchestrate specific decision-making processes that alter the cellular behavior, but also integrate and communicate information. Moreover and beyond, some signal transducing systems also enable bacteria to remember and learn from previous stimuli to anticipate environmental changes. As recently suggested, all of these aspects indicate that bacteria do, in fact, exhibit cognition remarkably reminiscent of what we refer to as intelligent behavior, at least when referred to higher eukaryotes. In this essay, comprehensive data derived from comparative genomics analyses of microbial signal transduction systems are used to probe the concept of cognition in bacterial cells. Using a recent comprehensive analysis of over 100 actinobacterial genomes as a test case, we illustrate the different layers of the capacities of bacteria that result in cognitive and behavioral complexity as well as some form of 'bacterial intelligence'. We try to raise awareness to approach bacteria as cognitive organisms and believe that this view would enrich and open a new path in the experimental studies of bacterial signal transducing systems.

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