For several decades, laboratory evolution has served as a powerful method to manipulate microorganisms and to explore long-term dynamics in microbial populations. Next to canonical Escherichia coli planktonic cultures, experimental evolution has expanded into alternative cultivation methods and species, opening the doors to new research questions. Bacillus subtilis, the spore-forming and root-colonizing bacterium, can easily develop in the laboratory as a liquid–air interface colonizing pellicle biofilm. Here, we summarize recent findings derived from this tractable experimental model. Clonal pellicle biofilms of B. subtilis can rapidly undergo morphological and genetic diversification creating new ecological interactions, for example, exploitation by biofilm non-producers. Moreover, long-term exposure to such matrix non-producers can modulate cooperation in biofilms, leading to different phenotypic heterogeneity pattern of matrix production with larger subpopulation of “ON” cells. Alternatively, complementary variants of biofilm non-producers, each lacking a distinct matrix component, can engage in a genetic division of labor, resulting in superior biofilm productivity compared to the “generalist” wild type. Nevertheless, inter-genetic cooperation appears to be evanescent and rapidly vanquished by individual biofilm formation strategies altering the amount or the properties of the remaining matrix component. Finally, fast-evolving mobile genetic elements can unpredictably shift intra-species interactions in B. subtilis biofilms. Understanding evolution in clonal biofilm populations will facilitate future studies in complex multispecies biofilms that are more representative of nature.
- Bactilicus subtilis
- Experimental evolution