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FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2009 Apr;293(1):135-40. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6968.2009.01526.x. Epub 2009 Feb 23.

Adaptive evolution in single species bacterial biofilms.

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Molecular and Computational Biology Section, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-2910, USA.


Little is known about the dynamics of cellular growth, death, and evolution within bacterial biofilms. Here we show evidence of evolution within single-species biofilms in real time. Escherichia coli harvested from 22-day-old biofilms express a competitive advantage over cells incubated in biofilms for shorter periods of time. This advantage is manifested as the ability of aged cells to outcompete younger cells in the presence of a pre-existing biofilm, even though cells from older biofilms do not express an increased ability to form initial biofilms on a fresh, unoccupied surface. This phenomenon is similar to the growth advantage in stationary phase, or GASP, phenotype exhibited by planktonically grown cells when incubated under competitive conditions. The ability of bacteria in biofilms to show rapid heritable change has implications for our understanding of the adaptive abilities of biofilms in a wide variety of natural and man-made environments.

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