A synthetic quorum sensing system reveals a potential private benefit for public good production in a biofilm

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Abstract

Bacteria predominantly reside in microbial communities known as biofilms, where cells are encapsulated and protected by the extracellular matrix (ECM). While all biofilm cells benefit from the ECM, only a subgroup of cells carries the burden of producing this public good. This dilemma provokes the question of how these cells balance the cost of ECM production. Here we show that ECM producing cells have a higher gene expression response to quorum sensing (QS) signals, which can lead to a private benefit. Specifically, we constructed a synthetic quorum-sensing system with designated "Sender" and "Receiver" cells in Bacillus subtilis. This synthetic QS system allowed us to uncouple and independently investigate ECM production and QS in both biofilms and single cells. Results revealed that ECM production directly enhances the response to QS signals, which may offset the cost of ECM production.

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Zhang, F., Kwan, A., Xu, A., & Süel, G. M. (2015). A synthetic quorum sensing system reveals a potential private benefit for public good production in a biofilm. PLoS ONE, 10(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0132948

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