British Columbia

'Bacteria Whisperer' Bonnie Bassler reveals the secret lives of bacteria in Vancouver

Princeton University molecular biologist who discovered how bacteria communicate speaks in Vancouver tonight.

Princeton molecular biologist Bonnie Bassler speaks in Vancouver tonight

Bonnie Bassler , Chair of Princeton University's Molecular Biology department, is also known as the 'Bacteria Whisperer'. She speaks tonight in Vancouver. (CBC)

It's a wonder that humans have only just begun to learn what makes bacteria work considering they're the oldest organisms on Earth, originating billions of years ago. 

Bonnie Bassler, chair of the Molecular Biology department at Princeton University is an international leader in her field and has discovered how bacteria communicate.

"The way bacteria do all these powerful jobs on earth is by talking with a chemical language, counting their numbers and understanding when they have the right number of cells," she told The Early Edition host Rick Cluff. 

"If they all do something together, they can accomplish feats together that they couldn't if they acted as individuals."

Bassler speaks tonight in Vancouver at the Vogue Theatre called 'The Secret, Social Lives of Bacteria' as part of the Peter Wall Downtown Lecture Series. She says the bacteria that cause disease have given the organism a sometimes misleadingly bad reputation.

"Bacteria make life on this earth possible and you're covered with them, you have ten times more bacterial cells than human cells and a hundred times more bacterial genes than human genes," she said. 

"The vast majority of what bacteria are doing when they're in and on humans is natural, you become inoculated right after you're born."

Bassler rose to stardom in the scientific community after delivering a TED talk back in 2009. Her talk has since been viewed more than 1.7 million times. 

"I was surprised that the talk got this life of its own but I'm delighted. I think this is this invisible world that people don't know about so that talk was a wonderful way to educate."

In the interview, Bassler also answered a common, burning question about bacteria: does anti-bacterial hand sanitizer work? She says standard soap will do. 

"Regular old soap is anti-bacterial and people need to wash their hands if they're preparing food and after they go to the bathroom. And otherwise, it's irrelevant."

To listen to Bassler's full interview on The Early Edition, click "'Bacteria Whisperer' reveals the secret lives of bacteria in Vancouver" above.