Research – Life and death of an ‘altruistic’ bacterium

Science Daily

Biofilms, complex communities of bacteria, abound around us: on the surface of cheese where they give off flavors and aromas, in streams where they form the slimy substance on rocks, on our teeth where they form plaque.

Living in a biofilm provides numerous advantages to bacteria: things like resource sharing, shelter from predators, and increased resistance to toxic compounds such as antibiotics.

But having the option to leave the biofilm when environmental conditions deteriorate can be a plus for bacteria, too, allowing them to relocate to a more hospitable environment.

”For the bacterium Caulobacter crescentus, the biofilm becomes a kind of prison in perpetuity: once cells are attached to a surface through a strong adhesive at one end of the cell, they cannot leave the biofilm,” said Yves Brun, a professor in the Department of Microbiology, Infectious Diseases and Immunology at Université de Montréal.

”However, when these attached cells divide, their unattached ‘daughter’ cells have a choice of joining the biofilm or swimming away.”

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