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Lab Chip. 2009 Apr 7;9(7):925-34. doi: 10.1039/b810157d. Epub 2008 Dec 11.

Jamming prokaryotic cell-to-cell communications in a model biofilm.

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Whitehead Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


We report on the physical parameters governing prokaryotic cell-to-cell signaling in a model biofilm. The model biofilm is comprised of bacteria that are genetically engineered to transmit and receive quorum-sensing (QS) signals. The model is formed using arrays of time-shared, holographic optical traps in conjunction with microfluidics to precisely position bacteria, and then encapsulated within a hydrogel that mimics the extracellular matrix. Using fluorescent protein reporters functionally linked to QS genes, we assay the intercellular signaling. We find that there isn't a single cell density for which QS-regulated genes are induced or repressed. On the contrary, cell-to-cell signaling is largely governed by diffusion, and is acutely sensitive to mass-transfer to the surroundings and the cell location. These observations are consistent with the view that QS-signals act simply as a probe measuring mixing, flow, or diffusion in the microenvironment of the cell.

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