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Elife. 2017 Jan 13;6. pii: e21855. doi: 10.7554/eLife.21855.

Flow environment and matrix structure interact to determine spatial competition in Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms.

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Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology, Marburg, Germany.
Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, United States.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Chevy Chase, United States.


Bacteria often live in biofilms, which are microbial communities surrounded by a secreted extracellular matrix. Here, we demonstrate that hydrodynamic flow and matrix organization interact to shape competitive dynamics in Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms. Irrespective of initial frequency, in competition with matrix mutants, wild-type cells always increase in relative abundance in planar microfluidic devices under simple flow regimes. By contrast, in microenvironments with complex, irregular flow profiles - which are common in natural environments - wild-type matrix-producing and isogenic non-producing strains can coexist. This result stems from local obstruction of flow by wild-type matrix producers, which generates regions of near-zero shear that allow matrix mutants to locally accumulate. Our findings connect the evolutionary stability of matrix production with the hydrodynamics and spatial structure of the surrounding environment, providing a potential explanation for the variation in biofilm matrix secretion observed among bacteria in natural environments.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa; biofilm; cooperation; ecology; evolution; flow; infectious disease; matrix; microbiology

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