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Adv Microb Physiol. 2009;56:29-84. doi: 10.1016/S0065-2911(09)05602-1. Epub 2009 Nov 26.

Microbial metropolis.

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Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cathays Park, Cardiff, Wales.


Microorganisms can form tightly knit communities such as biofilms. Many others include marine snow, anaerobic digester granules, the ginger beer plant and bacterial colonies. This chapter is devoted to a survey of the main properties of these communities, with an emphasis on biofilms. We start with attachment to surfaces and the nature of adhesion. The growing community then forms within a matrix, generally of organic macromolecules. Inevitably the environment within such a matrix is different from that outside. Organisms respond by forming crowd-detection and response units; these quorum sensing systems act as switches between planktonic life and the dramatically altered conditions found inside microbial aggregates. The community then matures and changes and may even fail and disappear. Antimicrobial resistance is discussed as an example of multicellular behavior. The multicellular lifestyle has been modeled mathematically and responded to powerful molecular biological techniques. Latterly, microbial systems have been used as models for fundamental evolutionary processes, mostly because of their high rates of reproduction and the ease of genetic manipulation. The life of most microbes is a duality between the yin of the community and the yang of planktonic existence. Sadly far less research has been devoted to adaptation to free-living forms than in the opposite direction.

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