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Two hypotheses, termed quorum sensing (QS) and diffusion sensing (DS), have been suggested as competing explanations for why bacterial cells use the local concentration of small molecules to regulate numerous extracellular behaviours. Here, we show that: (i) although there are important differences between QS and DS, they are not diametrically opposed; (ii) empirical attempts to distinguish between QS and DS are misguided and will lead to confusion; (iii) the fundamental distinction is not between QS and DS, but whether or not the trait being examined is social; (iv) empirical data are consistent with both social interactions and a role of diffusion; (v) alternate hypotheses, such as efficiency sensing (ES), are not required to unite QS and DS. More generally, work in this area illustrates how the use of jargon can obscure the underlying concepts and key questions. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

Original publication




Journal article


Trends in Microbiology

Publication Date





586 - 594