Learning How Bacteria Communicate

New tool identifies molecules that influence microbial communities.

Image courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Scientists can noninvasively examine how live microbial communities interact in real time using the nanospray desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (nanoDESI) instrument.

The Science

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) used a novel technique that noninvasively analyzes microbes to profile the chemicals that a cyanobacterium produces to influence nearby microorganisms.

The Impact

Understanding how bacteria, algae, and other microbes influence or communicate with each other by exchanging molecules could provide insights useful for advancing sustainable bioenergy.


Synechococcus sp. PCC 7002 was found to steadily secrete two molecules, sucrose and glucosylglycerol, that could be used as resources by nearby bacteria. To chemically profile the microbial communities in both space and time, researchers used a technique called nanospray desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry, or nanoDESI, developed at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE scientific user facility.


Ingela Lanekoff
Chemical and Materials Sciences Division, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, PO Box 999, K8-88 Richland, WA 99352


This research was conducted under the Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program at PNNL, a multiprogram national laboratory operated by Battelle for DOE.


Lanekoff, I., Geydebrekht, O., Pinchuk, G.E., Konopka, A.E., and Laskin, J. “Spatially resolved analysis of glycolipids and metabolites in living Synechococcus sp. PCC 7002 using nanospray desorption electrospray ionization.” Analyst 138 (7), 1971–1978 (2013). [DOI: 10.1039/C3AN36716A].

Highlight Categories

Program: BER , CESD

Performer: DOE Laboratory , SC User Facilities , BER User Facilities , EMSL