Evolution of exploitative interactions during diversification in Bacillus subtilis biofilms

Anna Dragoš, Nivedha Lakshmanan, Marivic Martin, Balázs Horváth, Gergely Maróti, Carolina Falcón García, Oliver Lieleg, Ákos T. Kovács*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Microbial biofilms are tightly packed, heterogeneous structures that serve as arenas for social interactions. Studies on Gram negative models reveal that during evolution in structured environments like biofilms, isogenic populations commonly diversify into phenotypically and genetically distinct variants. These variants can settle in alternative biofilm niches and develop new types of interactions that greatly influence population productivity. Here, we explore the evolutionary diversification of pellicle biofilms of the Gram positive, spore-forming bacterium Bacillus subtilis. We discover that-similarly to other species-B. subtilis diversifies into distinct colony variants. These variants dramatically differ in biofilm formation abilities and expression of biofilm-related genes. In addition, using a quantitative approach, we reveal striking differences in surface complexity and hydrophobicity of the evolved colony types. Interestingly, one of the morphotypes completely lost the ability of independent biofilm formation and evolved to hitchhike with other morphotypes with improved biofilm forming abilities. Genome comparison suggests that major phenotypic transformations between the morphotypes can be triggered by subtle genetic differences. Our work demonstrates how positive complementarity effects and exploitative interactions intertwine during evolutionary diversification in biofilms.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberfix155
JournalFEMS Microbiology Ecology
Issue number1
Number of pages32
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Biofilm matrix
  • Experimental evolution
  • Morphotype
  • Pellicle
  • Social interactions
  • Bacillus subtilis

Cite this

Dragoš, A., Lakshmanan, N., Martin, M., Horváth, B., Maróti, G., García, C. F., Lieleg, O., & Kovács, Á. T. (2018). Evolution of exploitative interactions during diversification in Bacillus subtilis biofilms. FEMS Microbiology Ecology, 94(1), [fix155]. https://doi.org/10.1093/femsec/fix155