Bacterial survival strategies suggest rethinking cancer cooperativity

Eshel Ben-Jacob, Donald S. Coffey, Herbert Levine

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Despite decades of a much improved understanding of cancer biology, we are still baffled by questions regarding the deadliest traits of malignancy: metastatic colonization, dormancy and relapse, and the rapid evolution of multiple drug and immune resistance. New ideas are needed to resolve these critical issues. Relying on finding and demonstrating parallels between collective behavior capabilities of cancer cells and that of bacteria, we suggest communal behaviors of bacteria as a valuable model system for new perspectives and research directions. Understanding the ways in which bacteria thrive in competitive habitats and their cooperative strategies for surviving extreme stress can shed light on cooperativity in tumorigenesis and portray tumors as societies of smart communicating cells. This may translate into progress in fathoming cancer pathogenesis. We outline new experiments to test the cancer cooperativity hypothesis and reason that cancer may be outsmarted through its own 'social intelligence'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)403-410
Number of pages8
JournalTrends in Microbiology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2012


  • Bacteria and cancer.
  • Cancer cooperative strategies
  • Cancer drug resistance
  • Cellular decision making
  • Cellular social networks
  • Spying cancer cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Virology

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