Interspecies interactions that result in Bacillus subtilis forming biofilms are mediated mainly by members of its own genus


Many different systems of bacterial interactions have been described. However, relatively few studies have explored how interactions between different microorganisms might influence bacterial development. To explore such interspecies interactions, we focused on Bacillus subtilis, which characteristically develops into matrix-producing cannibals before entering sporulation. We investigated whether organisms from the natural environment of B. subtilis—the soil—were able to alter the development of B.subtilis. To test this possibility, we developed a coculture microcolony screen in which we used fluorescent reporters to identify soil bacteria able to induce matrix production in B. subtilis. Most of the bacteria that influence matrix production in B. subtilis are members of the genus Bacillus, suggesting that such interactions may be predominantly with close relatives. The interactions we observed were mediated via two different mechanisms. One resulted in increased expression of matrix genes via the activation of a sensor histidine kinase, KinD. The second was kinase independent and conceivably functions by altering the relative subpopulations of B. subtilis cell types by preferentially killing noncannibals. These two mechanisms were grouped according to the inducing strain’s relatedness to B. subtilis. Our results suggest that bacteria preferentially alter their development in response to secreted molecules from closely related bacteria and do so using mechanisms that depend on the phylogenetic relatedness of the interacting bacteria.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2011 Nov;108(48):E1236–1243