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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Aug 7;109(32):13088-93. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1200791109. Epub 2012 Jul 5.

Bacterial swimmers that infiltrate and take over the biofilm matrix.

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Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, Micalis Institute, UMR1319, F-78350 Jouy-en-Josas, France.


Bacteria grow in either planktonic form or as biofilms, which are attached to either inert or biological surfaces. Both growth forms are highly relevant states in nature and of paramount scientific focus. However, interchanges between bacteria in these two states have been little explored. We discovered that a subpopulation of planktonic bacilli is propelled by flagella to tunnel deep within a biofilm structure. Swimmers create transient pores that increase macromolecular transfer within the biofilm. Irrigation of the biofilm by swimmer bacteria may improve biofilm bacterial fitness by increasing nutrient flow in the matrix. However, we show that the opposite may also occur (i.e., swimmers can exacerbate killing of biofilm bacteria by facilitating penetration of toxic substances from the environment). We combined these observations with the fact that numerous bacteria produce antimicrobial substances in nature. We hypothesized and proved that motile bacilli expressing a bactericide can also kill a heterologous biofilm population, Staphylococcus aureus in this case, and then occupy the newly created space. These findings identify microbial motility as a determinant of the biofilm landscape and add motility to the complement of traits contributing to rapid alterations in biofilm populations.

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