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Chapter 11 : Genetic Exchange in Biofilms

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Abstract:

Horizontal gene transfer is one of the principal mechanisms driving the evolution of microorganisms. One can induce from this “archeological evidence” that genetic exchange between bacteria occurs fairly frequently. This chapter describes the examples of genetic exchange in biofilms as they have been observed in the laboratory. Transformation in biofilms has, to date, only been demonstrated in two main in vitro model systems. Quorum sensing in gram-positive bacteria has been found to regulate a number of physiologic activities in different species, including competence development in , , , and . Optimal transformation frequencies were observed when fresh medium was fed to the biofilms, and the amount of surrounding planktonic cells was limited. The high rates of transformation observed with both and Acinetobacter biofilms suggest that competence may be the normal state for surface-adherent populations. In addition to increasing the probability of donor-recipient contact it has been suggested that genes activated by contact with surfaces may be involved in the process of conjugation. To visualize actual mating events in biofilms, samples were examined by scanning electron microscopy. Furthermore, the fact that bacteria that are capable of forming biofilms are generally adept at genetic exchange should give us the impetus to study these processes in detail. A means of controlling genetic exchange in biofilms may help us not only to limit the transfer of undesirable characteristics such as antibiotic resistance in medical infections, but also to enhance the desirable processes in other applications.

Citation: Cvitkovitch D. 2004. Genetic Exchange in Biofilms, p 192-205. In Ghannoum M, O'Toole G (ed), Microbial Biofilms. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817718.ch11
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Figures

Image of FIGURE 1
FIGURE 1

The three mechanisms of genetic exchange used by bacteria. Transformation requires bacteria to enter a state of genetic competence where they activate a specialized set of cellular functions to transport and integrate foreign DNA. Conjugation involves physical contact between neighboring cells to facilitate transfer of genetic material through a specialized pilus, while transduction requires the DNA to be packaged into a bacteriophage that then infects the recipient cell.

Citation: Cvitkovitch D. 2004. Genetic Exchange in Biofilms, p 192-205. In Ghannoum M, O'Toole G (ed), Microbial Biofilms. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817718.ch11
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Image of FIGURE 2
FIGURE 2

Quorum sensing has been linked to genetic competence in many streptococci and is best characterized for ( ). A similar mechanism was found to be used by when growing in biofilms ( ). encodes an ABC-type export permease that cleaves the product of to generate a peptide pheromone, CSP. When CSP reaches a critical density it is detected by neighboring cells of the same species via a histidine kinase sensor, ComD (encoded by ), which then phosphorylates the response regulator ComE (). Phosphorylated ComE activates transcription by binding to a specific sequence (gAG) found upstream of the promoters of the , , and genes of . and presumably a number of other genes in Transcription of results in synthesis of an alternate sigma factor, ComX, that directs RNA polymerase to a consensus sequence (TACGAATA) upstream of late-competence genes encoding proteins involved in DNA uptake and processing. Experimental evidence suggests that this system also activates genes involved in acid tolerance ( ) and biofilm formation ( ).

Citation: Cvitkovitch D. 2004. Genetic Exchange in Biofilms, p 192-205. In Ghannoum M, O'Toole G (ed), Microbial Biofilms. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817718.ch11
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Image of FIGURE 3
FIGURE 3

A 16-h-old biofilm (×800) of . Note the formation of the microcolonies that facilitate the process of transformation via the QS mechanism.

Citation: Cvitkovitch D. 2004. Genetic Exchange in Biofilms, p 192-205. In Ghannoum M, O'Toole G (ed), Microbial Biofilms. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817718.ch11
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Image of FIGURE 4
FIGURE 4

Conjugation in biofilms. Panel A (×2,400) shows a 4-h-old biofilm and panel B (×1,600) shows a 16-h-old biofilm, both with several conjugative cells visible.

Citation: Cvitkovitch D. 2004. Genetic Exchange in Biofilms, p 192-205. In Ghannoum M, O'Toole G (ed), Microbial Biofilms. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817718.ch11
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References

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Tables

Generic image for table
Table 1.

The estimated amount of horizontally acquired DNA in various bacteria

Citation: Cvitkovitch D. 2004. Genetic Exchange in Biofilms, p 192-205. In Ghannoum M, O'Toole G (ed), Microbial Biofilms. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817718.ch11
Generic image for table
Table 2.

The frequency of conjugal gene exchange between strains

Citation: Cvitkovitch D. 2004. Genetic Exchange in Biofilms, p 192-205. In Ghannoum M, O'Toole G (ed), Microbial Biofilms. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/9781555817718.ch11

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