Discovery of calcium as a biofilm-promoting signal for Vibrio fischeri reveals new phenotypes and underlying regulatory complexity

Alice H. Tischler, Louise Lie, Cecilia M. Thompson, Karen L. Visick*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Vibrio fischeri uses biofilm formation to promote symbiotic colonization of its squid host, Euprymna scolopes. Control over biofilm formation is exerted at the level of transcription of the symbiosis polysaccharide (syp) locus by a complex set of two-component regulators. Biofilm formation can be induced by overproduction of the sensor kinase RscS, which requires the activities of the hybrid sensor kinase SypF and the response regulator SypG and is negatively regulated by the sensor kinase BinK. Here, we identify calcium as a signal that promotes biofilm formation by biofilm-competent strains under conditions in which biofilms are not typically observed (growth with shaking). This was true for RscS-overproducing cells as well as for strains in which only the negative regulator binK was deleted. The latter results provided, for the first time, an opportunity to induce and evaluate biofilm formation without regulator overexpression. Using these conditions, we determined that calcium induces both syp-dependent and bacterial cellulose synthesis (bcs)-dependent biofilms at the level of transcription of these loci. The calcium-induced biofilms were dependent on SypF, but SypF's Hpt domain was sufficient for biofilm formation. These data suggested the involvement of another sensor kinase(s) and led to the discovery that both RscS and a previously uncharacterized sensor kinase, HahK, functioned in this pathway. Together, the data presented here reveal both a new signal and biofilm phenotype produced by V. fischeri cells, the coordinate production of two polysaccharides involved in distinct biofilm behaviors, and a new regulator that contributes to control over these processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00016-18
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018


  • Biofilms
  • Calcium
  • Calcium signaling
  • Histidine kinase
  • Sensor kinase
  • Two-component regulatory systems
  • Vibrio fischeri

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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