Research
Developmental Biology of Biofilms

The Developmental Biology of Biofilms integrated programme is delivering an understanding of biofilm specific mechanisms throughout the stages of the biofilm lifecycle, including initial attachment and autolysis-mediated dispersal of a subpopulation of cells. Here, SCELSE is applying a combination of molecular biology, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics to developing biofilms to understand the genes involved and characterise their roles in biofilm development. The platform studies all aspects of biofilm development from the stages of initial attachment through to biofilm dispersal, where cells may return to the planktonic phase, presumably to seek out and colonise new niches.

The programme addresses address the biological importance of:

• The roles of filamentous phage, which play important roles in the development of microbial biofilms despite their limited gene content (Mai-Prochnow et al 2014, McDougald et al 2013);

• Extracellular signals for development and dispersal where such molecules are involved in the development of biofilms as well as triggering dispersal and interspecies based regulation of behaviour (Mohanty et al. 2014, Tan et al. 2014, Tan et al. 2013);

• Intracellular signals, including NO, c-di-GMP and cAMP and their regulatory cascades that, in addition to providing targets to control biofilm formation or dispersal, also link extracellular cues and signals to intracellular responses and gene regulation necessary for control of biofilm specific phenotypes (Barnes et al. 2014, Barraud et al. 2014, Christensen et al. 2013, Chua et al. 2013, Yepuri et al. 2013);

• The evolution of the interactions between biofilms and ‘predators’ (in the host and environment) including protozoa, bacterial predators, bacteriophage and the host immune system. Such predators are important in the evolutionary trajectory of the biofilm cells, where the bacteria and the predators co-evolve to compete or cooperate over time (Chua et al. 2014; Sun et al. 2015);

• The role of genetic variants produced during biofilm development that impact on biofilm and dispersal fitness and ecology and play a role in the evolution of member species. By understanding the dynamics of this process, it is possible to make predictions of how the population will respond to stressors and changes in environment (Lee et al. 2014, McElroy et al. 2014);

• Biofilm hallmarks in populations versus communities, where a stringent comparison is necessary for a deeper, more ecologically relevant understanding of differences between the phases of the life-cycle (Lee et al. 2014, Tan et al. 2014).

The outcomes of this work form the platforms underpinning the identification of key steps in biofilm development and the genes associated, which subsequently become targets to be developed in the Antibiofilm Drugs integrated program. This is also an essential platform that provides a fundamental basis for the evaluation of experimental community systems as well as providing the experimental systems used to study the biofilm matrix when examined by real-time imaging using advanced biofilm growth chambers. This programme also serves as the conceptual framework for the comparison of the biofilm lifecycle with the developmental programmes of higher organisms.

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