Gene expression in multispecies biofilms - linking structure and function


In this project, we will study biofilms composed of multiple species; specifically aiming at identifying the matrix components that are differently expressed in mono vs. multispecies biofilms.

Background and aim
Multispecies biofilms are ubiquitous in natural and man-made environments. The development and activity of these bacterial communities are shaped by interactions between residing organisms, which give rise to unique properties, such as enhanced tolerance and productivity; Multispecies biofilms are therefore both industrially challenging and biotechnologically relevant. Because of their ubiquity and high persistence, biofilms challenge various human activities; by example, microfouling on ship vessels was estimated to increase drag by up to 20% and enhance US Naval costs by up to 1 bn US $ annually. Consequently, intensive research efforts have been directed towards the biofilm area, but efficient anti-biofilm strategies are still missing. This is likely caused by a biased focus in biofilm research towards simple biofilms, composed of only one species, that neglect important interactions and synergies occurring between bacteria of different species: Only by studying the bacteria when living with other species in close proximity, will we be able to understand these communities and their underlying interactions.

In this project, we will link gene expression to biofilm function and structure, specifically, we will study the expression and impact of matrix components. This will improve understanding of these complex communities and contribute to the development of improved eradication and application strategies.

This proposal will advance the understanding of multispecies biofilm at the micro-scale. We will analyze the expression of matrix encoding genes in multispecies biofilms and link this to the spatial organization of the individual members. This will provide understanding of bacterial interactions and how these interactions shape the expression of specific genes, both in relation to position in the biofilm and the other species present. Specifically, matrix components important for biofilm synergy and emergent properties will be identified. This is timely and highly relevant, as multispecies biofilm research is now at the stage, where the impact and unique characteristics of these complex communities are recognized, but the underlying molecular interactions are unknown.
The novel knowledge generated will serve as a platform for further research and for biotechnological applications; Multispecies biofilms are currently applied in waste water treatment, generation of biogas, bioremediation etc. and the potential for further exploration of these bacterial consortia in the transition towards a new “biobased society” is enormous. In addition, the findings of this research will likely identify regulators of emergent properties which are potential targets for development of novel anti-biofilm strategies applied in various industries challenged by biofilms, including food production facilities, pipelines and shipping, as costs and fuel consumption are enhanced due to biofilm formation on ship vessels, so efficient anti-biofilm strategies will benefit the industry and society economically as well as environmentally.