Associational Resistance to Predation by Protists in a Mixed Species Biofilm

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Mixed species biofilms exhibit increased tolerance to numerous stresses compared to single species biofilms. The aim of this study was to examine the effect of grazing by the heterotrophic protist, Tetrahymena pyriformis, on a mixed species biofilm consisting of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Pseudomonas protegens, and Klebsiella pneumoniae. Protozoan grazing significantly reduced the single species K. pneumoniae biofilm, and the single species P. protegens biofilm was also sensitive to grazing. In contrast, P. aeruginosa biofilms were resistant to predation. This resistance protected the otherwise sensitive members of the mixed species biofilm consortium. Rhamnolipids produced by P. aeruginosa were shown to be the primary toxic factor for T. pyriformis. However, a rhamnolipid-deficient mutant of P. aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa Δ rhlAB) maintained grazing resistance in the biofilm, suggesting the presence of at least one additional protective mechanism. P. aeruginosa with a deleted gene encoding the type III secretion system also resisted grazing. A transposon library was generated in the Δ rhlAB mutant to identify the additional factor involved in community biofilm protection. Results indicated that the Pseudomonas Quinolone Signal (PQS), a quorum sensing signaling molecule, was likely responsible for this effect. We confirmed this observation by showing that double mutants of Δ rhlAB and genes in the PQS biosynthetic operon lost grazing protection. We also showed that PQS was directly toxic to T. pyriformis. This study demonstrates that residing in a mixed species biofilm can be an advantageous strategy for grazing sensitive bacterial species, as P. aeruginosa confers community protection from protozoan grazing through multiple mechanisms. IMPORTANCE Biofilms have been shown to protect bacterial cells from predation by protists. Biofilm studies have traditionally used single species systems, which have provided information on the mechanisms and regulation of biofilm formation and dispersal, and the effects of predation on these biofilms. However, biofilms in nature are comprised of multiple species. To better understand how multispecies biofilms are impacted by predation, a model mixed-species biofilm was here exposed to protozoan predation. We show that the grazing sensitive strains K. pneumonia and P. protogens gained associational resistance from the grazing resistant P. aeruginosa. Resistance was due to the secretion of rhamnolipids and quorum sensing molecule PQS. This work highlights the importance of using mixed species systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0174122
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number2
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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