Biofilm matrix disrupts nematode motility and predatory behavior


In nature, bacteria form biofilms by producing exopolymeric matrix that encases its entire community. While it is widely known that biofilm matrix can prevent bacterivore predation and contain virulence factors for killing predators, it is unclear if they can alter predator motility. Here, we report a novel “quagmire” phenotype, where Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms could retard the motility of bacterivorous nematode Caenorhabditis elegans via the production of a specific exopolysaccharide, Psl. Psl could reduce the roaming ability of C. elegans by impeding the slithering velocity of C. elegans. Furthermore, the presence of Psl in biofilms could entrap C. elegans within the matrix, with dire consequences to the nematode. After being trapped in biofilms, C. elegans could neither escape effectively from aversive stimuli (noxious blue light), nor leave easily to graze on susceptible biofilm areas. Hence, this reduced the ability of C. elegans to roam and predate on biofilms. Taken together, our work reveals a new function of motility interference by specific biofilm matrix components, and emphasizes its importance in predator–prey interactions.

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Fig. 1: Biofilms impede locomotion and restrict roaming of C. elegans.
Fig. 2: Psl is more important than Pel at impeding nematode locomotion under influence by wsp operon.
Fig. 3: Psl immobilizes and delays C. elegans from escape and attacking susceptible biofilms.
Fig. 4: Role of alginate in the quagmire phenotype.


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This research is supported by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Department of Applied Biology and Chemical Technology Startup Grant (BE2B) and State Key Laboratory of Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery Fund (1-BBX8).

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SLC designed methods and experiments. SYC, SYL, and ZS carried out laboratory experiments, analyzed the data, and interpreted the results. SLC, SYL, and SYC wrote the paper. All authors have contributed to, seen, and approved the paper.

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Correspondence to Song Lin Chua.

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Chan, S.Y., Liu, S.Y., Seng, Z. et al. Biofilm matrix disrupts nematode motility and predatory behavior. ISME J (2020).

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