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Summary

An increasing number of Gram-negative bacteria have been observed to secrete outer membrane vesicles (OMVs). Many mysteries remain with respect to OMV formation, the regulation of OMV content and mode of targeting and fusion. Bacterial OMVs appear to serve a variety of purposes in intra- and interspecies microbial extracellular activities. OMVs have been shown to mediate cell-to-cell exchange of DNA, protein and small signalling molecules. The impact of such material exchanges on microbial communities and pathogenic processes, including the delivery of toxins at high concentration through OMVs, is discussed. This rather recent aspect of microbial ecology is likely to remain an important area of research as an in-depth understanding of OMVs may allow new approaches for combating bacterial infections and provide new routes for selective drug delivery.