Species-Independent Attraction to Biofilms through Electrical Signaling

Jacqueline Humphries, Liyang Xiong, Jintao Liu, Arthur Prindle, Fang Yuan, Heidi A. Arjes, Lev Tsimring, Gürol M. Süel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

175 Scopus citations


Bacteria residing within biofilm communities can coordinate their behavior through cell-to-cell signaling. However, it remains unclear if these signals can also influence the behavior of distant cells that are not part of the community. Using a microfluidic approach, we find that potassium ion channel-mediated electrical signaling generated by a Bacillus subtilis biofilm can attract distant cells. Integration of experiments and mathematical modeling indicates that extracellular potassium emitted from the biofilm alters the membrane potential of distant cells, thereby directing their motility. This electrically mediated attraction appears to be a generic mechanism that enables cross-species interactions, as Pseudomonas aeruginosa cells also become attracted to the electrical signal released by the B. subtilis biofilm. Cells within a biofilm community can thus not only coordinate their own behavior but also influence the behavior of diverse bacteria at a distance through long-range electrical signaling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)200-209.e12
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 12 2017


  • bacterial communities
  • biofilm
  • electrical signaling
  • ion channel
  • long-range signaling
  • membrane potential
  • motility
  • multispecies
  • single cell trajectories
  • tumbling frequency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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