Flagellar interference with plasmid uptake in biofilms: a joint experimental and modeling study

Henriette Lyng Røder*, Eleni Christidi, Cristina I. Amador, Samra Music, Asmus Kalckar Olesen, Birte Svensson, Jonas Stenløkke Madsen, Jakob Herschend, Jan-Ulrich Kreft*, Mette Burmølle*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Plasmid conjugation is a key facilitator of horizontal gene transfer (HGT), and plasmids encoding antibiotic resistance drive the increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance. In natural, engineered, and clinical environments, bacteria often grow in protective biofilms. Therefore, a better understanding of plasmid transfer in biofilms is needed. Our aim was to investigate plasmid transfer in a biofilm-adapted wrinkly colony mutant of Xanthomonas retroflexus (XRw) with enhanced matrix production and reduced motility. We found that XRw biofilms had an increased uptake of the broad host-range IncP-1ϵ plasmid pKJK5 compared to the wild type (WT). Proteomics revealed fewer flagellar-associated proteins in XRw, suggesting that flagella were responsible for reducing plasmid uptake. This was confirmed by the higher plasmid uptake of non-flagellated fliM mutants of the X. retroflexus wrinkly mutant as well as the wild type. Moreover, testing several flagellar mutants of Pseudomonas putida suggested that the flagellar effect was more general. We identified seven mechanisms with the potential to explain the flagellar effect and simulated them in an individual-based model. Two mechanisms could thus be eliminated (increased distances between cells and increased lag times due to flagella). Another mechanism identified as viable in the modeling was eliminated by further experiments. The possibility of steric hindrance of pilus movement and binding by flagella, reducing the frequency of contact and thus plasmid uptake, proved viable, and the three other viable mechanisms had a reduced probability of plasmid transfer in common. Our findings highlight the important yet complex effects of flagella during bacterial conjugation in biofilms.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0151023
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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