Hampered motility promotes the evolution of wrinkly phenotype in Bacillus subtilis

Anne Richter, Theresa Hoelscher, Patrick Pausch, Tim Sehrt, Franziska Brockhaus, Gert Bange, Ákos T. Kovács*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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BackgroundSelection for a certain trait in microbes depends on the genetic background of the strain and the selection pressure of the environmental conditions acting on the cells. In contrast to the sessile state in the biofilm, various bacterial cells employ flagellum-dependent motility under planktonic conditions suggesting that the two phenotypes are mutually exclusive. However, flagellum dependent motility facilitates the prompt establishment of floating biofilms on the air-medium interface, called pellicles. Previously, pellicles of B. subtilis were shown to be preferably established by motile cells, causing a reduced fitness of non-motile derivatives in the presence of the wild type strain.ResultsHere, we show that lack of active flagella promotes the evolution of matrix overproducers that can be distinguished by the characteristic wrinkled colony morphotype. The wrinkly phenotype is associated with amino acid substitutions in the master repressor of biofilm-related genes, SinR. By analyzing one of the mutations, we show that it alters the tetramerization and DNA binding properties of SinR, allowing an increased expression of the operon responsible for exopolysaccharide production. Finally, we demonstrate that the wrinkly phenotype is advantageous when cells lack flagella, but not in the wild type background.ConclusionsOur experiments suggest that loss of function phenotypes could expose rapid evolutionary adaptation in bacterial biofilms that is otherwise not evident in the wild type strains.
Original languageEnglish
Article number155
JournalBMC Evolutionary Biology
Issue number1
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Bacillus subtilis
  • Biofilm
  • Pellicle
  • Wrinkly colony
  • SinR

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