Active pH regulation facilitates Bacillus subtilis biofilm development in a minimally buffered environment

Peter Tran, Stephen M. Lander, Arthur Prindle*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Biofilms provide individual bacteria with many advantages, yet dense cellular proliferation can also create intrinsic metabolic challenges including excessive acidification. Because such pH stress can be masked in buffered laboratory media—such as MSgg commonly used to study Bacillus subtilis biofilms—it is not always clear how such biofilms cope with minimally buffered natural environments. Here, we report how B. subtilis biofilms overcome this intrinsic metabolic challenge through an active pH regulation mechanism. Specifically, we find that these biofilms can modulate their extracellular pH to the preferred neutrophile range, even when starting from acidic and alkaline initial conditions, while planktonic cells cannot. We associate this behavior with dynamic interplay between acetate and acetoin biosynthesis and show that this mechanism is required to buffer against biofilm acidification. Furthermore, we find that buffering-deficient biofilms exhibit dysregulated biofilm development when grown in minimally buffered conditions. Our findings reveal an active pH regulation mechanism in B. subtilis biofilms that could lead to new targets to control unwanted biofilm growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • biofilms
  • buffer
  • emergent behaviors
  • microbial communities
  • pH

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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