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NPJ Biofilms Microbiomes. 2017 Mar 24;3:8. doi: 10.1038/s41522-017-0016-3. eCollection 2017.

Bacillus subtilis utilizes the DNA damage response to manage multicellular development.

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Department of Biology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115 USA.
College of Forestry resources and environment, Nanjing Forestry University, Nanjing, 210037 China.


Bacteria switch between free-living and a multicellular state, known as biofilms, in response to cellular and environmental cues. It is important to understand how these cues influence biofilm development as biofilms are not only ubiquitous in nature but are also causative agents of infectious diseases. It is often believed that any stress triggers biofilm formation as a means of bacterial protection. In this study, we propose a new mechanism for how cellular and environmental DNA damage may influence biofilm formation. We demonstrate that Bacillus subtilis prevents biofilm formation and cell differentiation when stressed by oxidative DNA damage. We show that during B. subtilis biofilm development, a subpopulation of cells accumulates reactive oxygen species, which triggers the DNA damage response. Surprisingly, DNA damage response induction shuts off matrix genes whose products permit individual cells to stick together within a biofilm. We further revealed that DDRON cells and matrix producers are mutually exclusive and spatially separated within the biofilm, and that a developmental checkpoint protein, Sda, mediates the exclusiveness. We believe this represents an alternative survival strategy, ultimately allowing cells to escape the multicellular community when in danger.

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