In situ gene expression in mixed-culture biofilms: Evidence of metabolic interactions between community members

Søren Møller, Claus Sternberg, Jens Bo Andersen, Bjarke Bak Christensen, Juan L. Ramos, Michael Christian Givskov, Søren Molin

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Microbial communities growing in laboratory-based pow chambers were investigated in order to study compartmentalization of specific gene expression. Among the community members studied, the focus,vas in particular on Pseudomonas putida and a strain of an Acinetobacter sp., and the genes studied are involved in the biodegradation of toluene and related aromatic compounds. The upper-pathway promoter (Pu) and the meta-pathway promoter (Pm) from the TOL plasmid were fused independently to the gene coding for the green fluorescent protein (GFP), and expression from these promoters was studied in P. putida, which was a dominant community member. Biofilms were cultured in flow chambers, which in combination with scanning confocal laser microscopy allowed direct monitoring of promoter activity with single-cell spatial resolution. Expression from the Pu promoter was homogeneously induced by benzyl alcohol in both community and pure-culture biofilms, while the Pm promoter was induced in the mixed community but not in a pure-culture biofilm. By sequentially adding community members, induction of Pm was shown to be a consequence of direct metabolic interactions between an Acinetobacter species and P. putida, Furthermore, in fixed biofilm samples organism identity was determined and gene expression was visualized at the same time by combining GFP expression with in situ hybridization with fluorescence-labeled 16S rRNA targeting probes. This combination of techniques is a powerful approach for investigating structure-function relationships in microbial communities.
Original languageEnglish
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)721-732
Publication statusPublished - 1998


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