What is Microbial Intelligence?

Everybody has heard about the word ‘intelligence’, but few have heard terms like ‘microbial intelligence’ or ‘bacterial intelligence’, Why? Simply because bacterium cannot be intelligent. They are just not intelligent. You might say that I must be crazy if I say that a bacterium is an intelligent entity. And, yes, you are correct.

A single bacterium is not at all intelligent. But a collection of bacterium can be regarded as intelligent. Researchers have found that bacteria use sophisticated communication methods to tackle the problems (of colony) collectively. For example, if there is lesser food available to the colony, the bacteria organize themselves in such a way so as to maximize nutrient availability. If this isn’t intelligence, then what is intelligence?

A Bacterial colony loosely mimics (or is similar to) a biological neural network. Just as a single neuron is no better than any other type of cell, a bacterial cell alone has no intelligence. Intelligence reside in the whole colony.

Bacteria can store, process, output and input information. In a sense, they are basic computers. And when a swarm of bacteria combines, intelligence arises in this computing machinery.

In above, I have been referring to bacteria alone. But I guess it refers to all microbes or possibly all life.


1. Wikipedia’s entry on Microbial Intelligence
2. Intelligent Bacteria?
3. Eshel Ben-Jacob’s Home Page


  1. The study of bacterial biofilms has only really kicked off in the last 15 years due to advances in equipment and interest in the field. But, It is predicted by much older works into the evolution of kin-selected behavior and the evolution of multicellularity. So, microbial intelligence might be mother of the inter-cellular communication systems in multicellular organisms.

  2. I’m sorry, but this article is dead wrong. I sense that the author takes the analogy of neural networks in a brain to bacterial colonies way too seriously. So no, intelligence is NOT some phantom phenomenon that emerges through intercommunication. Intelligence is a fundamental phenomenon that expands as it’s influence over material processes expand. So to answer correctly, YES individual bacteria ARE intelligent.

    First and foremost single bacterium process information and make decisions about their internal/external environments through the activation, suppression, and regulation of cellular and genetic mechanisms. These mechanisms in and of themselves display intelligent, COGNIZANT information processing. The bacteria “knows” it’s a separate entity. Does that mean it thinks like a human? Of course not. It’s probably not even self aware at all, but it’s still cognizant in a basic and instinctive way like all life forms are. Here are three reasons why you should rewrite your article and admit that bacteria (basically any form of reproducing (living) genetic system) are intelligent, and the intelligence is more fundamental than the intercommunication of many cells.

    Second, bacteria have the ability to quite literally take apart and reorganize their genomes under extreme environmental stress. In other words, there is more information in the bacterium than the simple sequences of the genome, there is an understanding of how to make new protein structures and enzymes if the threat of the bacterial population going extinct is high. It is only as a last resort that the bacterium will do this, but they can if necessary.

    Third, bacteria don’t belong to species. They are so intimately related to their environment, and so extremely intelligent that they tailor themselves to their surroundings. They search out not only chemical signals in order to communicate and perform “multi-cellular” activities at the colonial level, but they also seek out genetic sequences that aid them in producing novel proteins and enzymes specific to their survival.

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