Here’s a pleasant thought for next time you spray down your kitchen counter — scientists say that bacteria “scream” as they die, giving off chemical alarms that warn their brethren of danger.
Specifically, Live Science reports, swarming bacteria like E. coli appear to be able to detect the presence of danger such as antibiotics, and “necrosignal” to their compatriots as they die so that they can start mutating a resistance to it.
Live Science reports that the University of Texas at Austin researchers behind new research published in the journal Nature were intrigued by the fact that antibiotics often only seem to kill some of a bacteria swarm.
On further investigation, they found that when antibiotics hit a swarm of E. coli, the dying bacteria send out a chemical signal that prompts their neighbors in the swarm to start rapidly adapting to the threat, increasing their chances of survival.
It’s an intriguingly microscopic example of pro-social behavior — an adaptation that doesn’t help an individual survive, but does let it use its death to help others, therefore making the entire swarm more likely to survive and reproduce.
“Dead cells are helping the community survive,” University of Texas at Austin professor of molecular biosciences told Live Science.
READ MORE: ‘Death screams’ of swarming bacteria help their comrades survive antibiotic attacks [Live Science]
More on bacteria: Scientists Just Watched Bacteria Evolve in Real Time