Social IQ score of bacteria

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Figure 1: Colony of Paenibacillus vortex bacteria. Example of an elaborate colony (the picture shows part of the colony to better see the detailed structure), that P. vortex can form, when grown for a few days in a Petri dish under laboratory-imposed stresses that mimic hostile environments. While the colors and shading are artistic additions, the image structure is part of an 8cm diameter colony of tens of billions of these microorganisms create. The bright dots are dense groups of bacteria, termed vortices, which swarm collectively around a common center to better pave the way on hard surfaces and protect themselves from hazards.

Social IQ score of bacteria is a recently proposed quantitative score[1] devised as a comparative genomic tool to assess the genome potential of bacteria to conduct successful cooperative and adaptable behaviors (or social behaviors) in complex adverse environments.

The need of the new measure follows the current realization that bacteria are smart creatures that can conduct intricate social life in large and complex colonies using sophisticated chemical communication.[2][3] We have only recently begun to decode how they can rapidly adapt to changes in the environment, distribute tasks, “learn from experience”, prepare for the future and make decisions.[4][5][6] While the number of bacteria in a colony (Figure 1) can be more than 100 times the number of people on Earth, bacteria are able to make sure they are all synchronized by sharing simple chemical messages.

Social-IQ of humans[edit]

The IQ score of humans is supposed to reflect their mathematical, analytical and logical capabilities.[7][8] We've come to understand that in society, emotional and social skills may be equally important, and individuals with extremely high IQ may have poor social skills. Social intelligence is an individual's capacity to perceive and understand the environment - from local surroundings to what is happening in the world - and to respond to that understanding in a personally and socially effective manner. In view of that, a Social-IQ score has been developed in a manner similar to the familiar IQ, where the average Social-IQ is defined as 100 points; socially gifted individuals have Social-IQ of one standard deviation above normal and those with brilliant social skills have Social-IQ of two standard deviations above normal.

Bacteria's Social-IQ[edit]

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Figure 2: The social IQ combined score as function of genome size of 502 bacteria. The Y-axis presents the relative combined score (relative to the averaged score and divided by the standard deviations). Note that the social IQ scores of the P. vortex, the P. JDR-2 and the P. Y412MC10 are more than 3 standard deviations above normal.
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Figure 3: Distribution of the Social IQ Score of Bacteria. The distribution of the social IQ scores of the 502 bacteria in terms of the relative scores (relative to the average score divided by the standard deviation). The bacteria strains marked green belong to the Paenibacillus genus.

The score is based on the number of genes which afford bacteria abilities to communicate and process environmental information (Two-component system and Transcription factor genes), to make decisions and to synthesize offensive (toxic) and defensive (neutralizing) agents as needed during chemical warfare with other microorganisms. Three bacteria species stand out with significantly high Social-IQ score among all sequenced bacteria, - over 3 standard deviations higher than average, indicating a capacity for exceptionally brilliant social skills (Figure 2). Notably, all these species belong to the same bacteria genus - the Paenibacillus genus that was identified as a new genus only in 1993.[9]

Harnessing bacterial intelligence[edit]

Information about bacterial IQ can be applied in green agriculture or biological control, where bacteria’s advanced offense strategies and the toxic agents they synthesize are used to fight harmful bacteria and fungi and even higher organisms. The Paenibacillus genus bacteria, to which the three smartest bacteria belong (Figure 3), are known to be a rich source for industrial, agricultural and medical applications.

Bacteria are often found in soil and live in harmony with a plant’s roots –– a process called symbiosis. The environment down there is very competitive, and bacteria help the plant roots access nutrients; in exchange, the bacteria consume sugar from the roots. Both help each other.

For that reason, bacteria are now applied in agriculture to increase the productivity of plants and make them stronger against pests and disease. The Social-IQ score could help developers screen which bacteria might work best for each task.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sirota-Madi A, Olender T, Helman Y, et al. Genome sequence of the pattern forming Paenibacillus vortex bacterium reveals potential for thriving in complex environments. BMC Genomics.11:710.
  2. ^ Ben-Jacob E, Cohen I, Gutnick DL. Cooperative organization of bacterial colonies: from genotype to morphotype. Annu Rev Microbiol. 1998;52:779-806.
  3. ^ Ben-Jacob E, Shochet O, Tenenbaum A, Avidan O. Evolution of complexity during growth of bacterial colonies. Paper presented at: NATO Advanced Research Workshop, 1995; Santa Fe, USA.
  4. ^ Ben-Jacob E. Bacterial self-organization: co-enhancement of complexification and adaptability in a dynamic environment. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A. 2003;361(1807):1283-1312.
  5. ^ Ben-Jacob E, Becker I, Shapira Y, Levine H. Bacterial linguistic communication and social intelligence. Trends Microbiol. Aug 2004;12(8):366-372.
  6. ^ Dwyer DJ, Kohanski MA, Collins JJ. Networking opportunities for bacteria. Cell. Dec 26 2008;135(7):1153-1156.
  7. ^ Gottfredson LS. Intelligence: is it the epidemiologists' elusive "fundamental cause" of social class inequalities in health? J Pers Soc Psychol. Jan 2004;86(1):174-199.
  8. ^ Judge TA, Colbert AE, Ilies R. Intelligence and leadership: a quantitative review and test of theoretical propositions. J Appl Psychol. Jun 2004;89(3):542-552.
  9. ^ Ash C, Priest FG, Collins MD. Molecular identification of rRNA group 3 bacilli (Ash, Farrow, Wallbanks and Collins) using a PCR probe test. Proposal for the creation of a new genus Paenibacillus. Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek. 1993;64(3-4):253-260.

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