Question 7 - Reading: Science Practice Test for the SAT Exam

According to the attached passage, what type of molecules do bacteria use to communicate?

These are full texts of articles published on Boundless website. In passage 1, we learn about how bacteria talk to each other via quorum sensing, which controls group behavior. Bacteria work as a group to make a biofilm, produce toxins, and produce light in squid. In passage 2, we learn about eukaryotic yeast signaling between cells to reproduce.

Passage 1

(Please also refer to the figure that accompanies this first passage by clicking the “View Image” button.)

Signaling in Bacteria

(1) Signaling in bacteria, known as quorum sensing, enables bacteria to monitor extracellular conditions, ensure sufficient amounts of nutrients are present, and avoid hazardous situations. There are circumstances, however, when bacteria communicate with each other. The first evidence of bacterial communication was observed in a bacterium that has a symbiotic relationship with Hawaiian bobtail squid. When the population density of the bacteria reached a certain level, specific gene expression was initiated: the bacteria produced bioluminescent proteins that emitted light. Because the number of cells present in the environment (the cell density) is the determining factor for signaling, bacterial signaling was named quorum sensing. Interestingly, in politics and business, a quorum is the minimum number of members required to be present to vote on an issue.

(2) Quorum sensing uses autoinducers as signaling molecules. Autoinducers are signaling molecules secreted by bacteria to communicate with other bacteria of the same kind. The secreted autoinducers can be small, hydrophobic molecules, such as acyl-homoserine lactone (AHL), or larger peptide-based molecules. Each type of molecule has a different mode of action. When AHL enters target bacteria, it binds to transcription factors, which then switch gene expression on or off. The peptide autoinducers stimulate more complicated signaling pathways that include bacterial kinases. The changes in bacteria following exposure to autoinducers can be quite extensive. The pathogenic bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa has 616 different genes that respond to autoinducers.

(Here, please also refer to the figure that accompanies this first passage by clicking the “View Image” button.)

(3) Some species of bacteria that use quorum sensing form biofilms, which are complex colonies of bacteria (often containing several species) that exchange chemical signals to coordinate the release of toxins that attack the host. Bacterial biofilms can sometimes be found on medical equipment. When biofilms invade implants, such as hip or knee replacements or heart pacemakers, they can cause life-threatening infections.

Passage 2

Signaling in Yeast

(1) Yeasts are single-celled eukaryotes; therefore, they have a nucleus and organelles characteristic of more complex life forms. Comparisons of the genomes of yeasts, nematode worms, fruit flies, and humans illustrate the evolution of increasingly-complex signaling systems that allow for the efficient inner workings that keep humans and other complex life forms functioning correctly.

(2) The components and processes found in yeast signals are similar to those of cell-surface receptor signals in multicellular organisms. Budding yeasts are able to participate in a process that is similar to sexual reproduction that entails two haploid cells combining to form a diploid cell. In order to find another haploid yeast cell that is prepared to mate, budding yeasts secrete a signaling molecule called mating factor. When mating factor binds to cell-surface receptors in other yeast cells that are nearby, they stop their normal growth cycles and initiate a cell signaling cascade that includes protein kinases and GTP-binding proteins that are similar to G-proteins.

Cellular Communication in Yeasts

(3) Kinases are a major component of cellular communication. Studies of these enzymes illustrate the evolutionary connectivity of different species. Yeasts have 130 types of kinases. More complex organisms such as nematode worms and fruit flies have 454 and 239 kinases, respectively. Of the 130 kinase types in yeast, 97 belong to the 55 subfamilies of kinases that are found in other eukaryotic organisms. The only obvious deficiency seen in yeasts is the complete absence of tyrosine kinases. It is hypothesized that phosphorylation of tyrosine residues is needed to control the more sophisticated functions of development, differentiation, and cellular communication used in multicellular organisms.

(4) Because yeasts contain many of the same classes of signaling proteins as humans, these organisms are ideal for studying signaling cascades. Yeasts multiply quickly and are much simpler organisms than humans or other multicellular animals. Therefore, the signaling cascades are also simpler and easier to study, although they contain similar counterparts to human signaling.

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