Matrix production in Bacillus subtilis biofilms is localized to a propagating front

Siddarth Srinivasan, Ioana D. Vladescu, Stephan A. Koehler, Xiaoling Wang, Madhav Mani, Shmuel M. Rubinstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacterial biofilms are surface attached microbial communities encased in self-produced extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). Development of a mature biofilm must require coordinating cell differentiation and multicellular activity at scales much larger than the single microbial unit. Here we demonstrate that during development of Bacillus subtilis biofilms, EPS matrix production is localized to a front propagating at the periphery. We show that within the front, cells switch off matrix production and transition to sporulation after a set time delay of ∼100 min. Correlation analyses of fluctuations in fluorescence reporter activity reveals that the front emerges from a pair of gene expression waves of matrix production and sporulation. The expression waves travel across cells that are immobilized in the biofilm matrix, in contrast to active cell migration or horizontal colony spreading. A single length scale and time scale couples the spatiotemporal propagation of both fronts throughout development, with the front displacement obeying a t1/2 scaling law. As a result, gene expression patterns within the advancing fronts collapse to self-similar expression profiles. Our results indicate that development of bacterial biofilms may be governed by universal wave-like dynamics localized to a self-similar front.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Apr 23 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)

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