Part of the book: Cellulose
The ‘Microbial Cities’ vision of bacterial biofilms has dominated our understanding of the development and functioning of bacterial aggregations for the past 20 years, during which active sludge, clumps, colonies, flocs, mats, pellicles, rafts, slimes, zooglea, etc. have been largely forgotten or ignored. Although the medically inspired developmental model of human pathogen biofilms has merits including providing a rationale for the development of anti-biofilm therapeutics, it fails to provide links to other types of bacterial aggregation that are commonly found in a wide range of natural and man-made environments. Possibly as a result, applied and environmental microbiologists tend to avoid the term ‘biofilm’ and use others such as ‘microbial mats’ instead. Here we challenge the simplistic planktonic (independent and free-swimming bacteria)-biofilm (sessile and co-operative bacteria) dichotomy, and consider biofilms within the larger context of bacterial aggregations. By placing biofilms into context, which we see as a continuum of aggregations or communities with varying abiotic and biotic properties, fundamental physical, biological, and evolutionary ecological processes that effect community development and function can no longer be considered unique to biofilms, but may also be important in other aggregations that develop over time and change in nature depending on prevailing conditions. By doing this, we will be better able to distinguish those processes which govern bacterial colonisation and ecological success in a wider sense from those that are unique to particular environments and specialised strategies.
Part of the book: Microbial Biofilms
Growing bacterial populations diversify to produce a number of competing lineages. In the Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25 model system, Wrinkly Spreader mutant lineages, capable of colonising the air-liquid interface of static microcosms by biofilm-formation, rapidly appear in diversifying populations with a fitness advantage over the ancestral wild-type strain. Similarly, a biofilm is rapidly produced by a community containing many biofilm-competent members, and selection by serial transfer of biofilm samples across microcosms results in a gradually changing community structure. Both the adaptive radiation producing Wrinkly Spreaders and the succession of biofilm communities in these static microcosms can be understood through evolutionary ecology in which ecological interactions and evolutionary processes are combined. Such eco-evolutionary dynamics are especially important for bacteria, as rapid growth, high population densities and strong selection in the context of infections can lead to fast changes in disease progression and resistance phenotypes, while similar changes in community function may also affect many microbially mediated biotechnological and industrial processes. Evolutionary ecology provides an understanding of why bacterial biofilms are so prevalent and why they are such a successful colonisation strategy, and it can be directly linked to molecular analyses to understand the importance of pathways and responses involved in biofilm-formation.
Part of the book: Bacterial Biofilms