• Marine biofilm bacteria evade eukaryotic predation by targeted chemical defense.

      Matz, Carsten; Webb, Jeremy S; Schupp, Peter J; Phang, Shui Yen; Penesyan, Anahit; Egan, Suhelen; Steinberg, Peter; Kjelleberg, Staffan; School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences and Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. (2008)
      Many plants and animals are defended from predation or herbivory by inhibitory secondary metabolites, which in the marine environment are very common among sessile organisms. Among bacteria, where there is the greatest metabolic potential, little is known about chemical defenses against bacterivorous consumers. An emerging hypothesis is that sessile bacterial communities organized as biofilms serve as bacterial refuge from predation. By testing growth and survival of two common bacterivorous nanoflagellates, we find evidence that chemically mediated resistance against protozoan predators is common among biofilm populations in a diverse set of marine bacteria. Using bioassay-guided chemical and genetic analysis, we identified one of the most effective antiprotozoal compounds as violacein, an alkaloid that we demonstrate is produced predominately within biofilm cells. Nanomolar concentrations of violacein inhibit protozoan feeding by inducing a conserved eukaryotic cell death program. Such biofilm-specific chemical defenses could contribute to the successful persistence of biofilm bacteria in various environments and provide the ecological and evolutionary context for a number of eukaryote-targeting bacterial metabolites.
    • Minimal increase in genetic diversity enhances predation resistance.

      Koh, Kai S; Matz, Carsten; Tan, Chuan H; LE, Hoang L; Rice, Scott A; Marshall, Dustin J; Steinberg, Peter D; Kjelleberg, Staffan; Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia. (2012-04)
      The importance of species diversity to emergent, ecological properties of communities is increasingly appreciated, but the importance of within-species genetic diversity for analogous emergent properties of populations is only just becoming apparent. Here, the properties and effects of genetic variation on predation resistance in populations were assessed and the molecular mechanism underlying these emergent effects was investigated. Using biofilms of the ubiquitous bacterium Serratia marcescens, we tested the importance of genetic diversity in defending biofilms against protozoan grazing, a main source of mortality for bacteria in all natural ecosystems. S. marcescens biofilms established from wild-type cells produce heritable, stable variants, which when experimentally combined, persist as a diverse assemblage and are significantly more resistant to grazing than either wild type or variant biofilms grown in monoculture. This diversity effect is biofilm-specific, a result of either facilitation or resource partitioning among variants, with equivalent experiments using planktonic cultures and grazers resulting in dominance by a single resistant strain. The variants studied are all the result of single nucleotide polymorphisms in one regulatory gene suggesting that the benefits of genetic diversity in clonal biofilms can occur through remarkably minimal genetic change. The findings presented here provide a new insight on the integration of genetics and population ecology, in which diversity arising through minimal changes in genotype can have major ecological implications for natural populations.