Vibrio cholerae Combines Individual and Collective Sensing to Trigger Biofilm Dispersal
Bacteria can generate benefits for themselves and their kin by living in multicellular, matrix-enclosed communities, termed biofilms, which are fundamental to microbial ecology and the impact bacteria have on the environment, infections, and industry [1–6]. The advantages of the biofilm mode of life include increased stress resistance and access to concentrated nutrient sources [3, 7, 8]. However, there are also costs associated with biofilm growth, including the metabolic burden of biofilm matrix production, increased resource competition, and limited mobility inside the community [9–11]. The decision-making strategies used by bacteria to weigh the costs between remaining in a biofilm or actively dispersing are largely unclear, even though the dispersal transition is a central aspect of the biofilm life cycle and critical for infection transmission [12–14]. Using a combination of genetic and novel single-cell imaging approaches, we show that Vibrio cholerae integrates dual sensory inputs to control the dispersal response: cells use the general stress response, which can be induced via starvation, and they also integrate information about the local cell density and molecular transport conditions in the environment via the quorum sensing apparatus. By combining information from individual (stress response) and collective (quorum sensing) avenues of sensory input, biofilm-dwelling bacteria can make robust decisions to disperse from large biofilms under distress, while preventing premature dispersal when biofilm populations are small. These insights into triggers and regulators of biofilm dispersal are a key step toward actively inducing biofilm dispersal for technological and medical applications, and for environmental control of biofilms.
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