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Mol Microbiol. 2010 Aug;77(4):815-29. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2958.2010.07267.x. Epub 2010 Jun 28.

A bacterial extracellular DNA inhibits settling of motile progeny cells within a biofilm.

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Department of Biology, Indiana University, 1001 E. 3rd Street, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


In natural systems, bacteria form complex, surface-attached communities known as biofilms. This lifestyle presents numerous advantages compared with unattached or planktonic life, such as exchange of nutrients, protection from environmental stresses and increased tolerance to biocides. Despite such benefits, dispersal also plays an important role in escaping deteriorating environments and in successfully colonizing favourable, unoccupied habitat patches. The α-proteobacterium Caulobacter crescentus produces a motile swarmer cell and a sessile stalked cell at each cell division. We show here that C. crescentus extracellular DNA (eDNA) inhibits the ability of its motile cell type to settle in a biofilm. eDNA binds to the polar holdfast, an adhesive structure required for permanent surface attachment and biofilm formation, thereby inhibiting cell attachment. Because stalked cells associate tightly with the biofilm through their holdfast, we hypothesize that this novel mechanism acts on swarmer cells born in a biofilm, where eDNA can accumulate to a sufficient concentration to inhibit their ability to settle. By targeting a specific cell type in a biofilm, this mechanism modulates biofilm development and promotes dispersal without causing a potentially undesirable dissolution of the existing biofilm.

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