Frank, S. A. 2017. Receptor uptake arrays for vitamin B12, siderophores and glycans shape bacterial communities. Ecology & Evolution 7:10175-10195.
Molecular variants of vitamin B12, siderophores, and glycans occur. To take up variant forms, bacteria may express an array of receptors. The gut microbe Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron has three different receptors to take up variants of vitamin B12 and 88 receptors to take up various glycans. The design of receptor arrays reflects key processes that shape cellular evolution. Competition may focus each species on a subset of the available nutrient diversity. Some gut bacteria can take up only a narrow range of carbohydrates, whereas species such as B. thetaiotaomicron can digest many different complex glycans. Comparison of different nutrients, habitats, and genomes provides opportunity to test hypotheses about the breadth of receptor arrays. Another important process concerns fluctuations in nutrient availability. Such fluctuations enhance the value of cellular sensors, which gain information about environmental availability and adjust receptor deployment. Bacteria often adjust receptor expression in response to fluctuations of particular carbohydrate food sources. Some species may adjust expression of uptake receptors for specific siderophores. How do cells use sensor information to control the response to fluctuations? This question about regulatory wiring relates to problems that arise in control theory and artificial intelligence. Control theory clarifies how to analyze environmental fluctuations in relation to the design of sensors and response systems. Recent advances in deep learning studies of artificial intelligence focus on the architecture of regulatory wiring and the ways in which complex control networks represent and classify environmental states. I emphasize the similar design problems that arise in cellular evolution, control theory, and artificial intelligence. I connect those broad conceptual aspects to many testable hypotheses for bacterial uptake of vitamin B12, siderophores, and glycans.