The Cell as a Thermostat: How Much does it Know?

  • Dennis BrayEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 736)


How does bacterial thermotaxis compare to a simple wall thermostat? Elements with similar function can be found in the two, including a temperature-sensing element, an output switch, and an external control. But they differ in their origins. A thermostat is designed and made by humans and embodies their understanding of seasonal fluctuations in temperature and how these affect room comfort. By contrast, the bacterial system is self-contained and assembles according to information in its genome acquired by evolution. This information is far richer than anything carried by a thermostat and closer to the ‘knowledge’ that higher animals have about the world.


Phosphoryl Group Flagellar Motor Output Switch Control Lever Watson Computer 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I would like to thank Matthew Levin, Ralph Linsker, Jim Shapiro, Kate Storey and Yuhai Tu for insightful comments.


  1. 1.
    Salman H, Libchaber A (2007) A concentration-dependent switch in the bacterial response to temperature. Nat Cell Biol 9(9):1098–1100PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Sourjik V, Wingreen NS (2007) Turning to the cold. Nat Cell Biol 9(9):1029–1031PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Berg HC (2004) E. coli in motion. In: Greenbaum E (ed) Biological and medical physics biomedical engineering. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Wadhams GH, Armitage JP (2004) Making sense of it all: bacterial chemotaxis. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol 5:1024–1037PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Hazelbauer GL, Falke JJ, Parkinson JS (2008) Bacterial chemoreceptors: high-performance signaling in networked arrays. Trends Biochem Sci 33(1):9–19PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Tagkopoulos I, Liu Y-C, Tavazoie S (2008) Predictive internal representations underlie anticipatory behavior within microbial genetic networks. Science 320:1313–1317PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physiology, Development and NeuroscienceUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations