In radiating populations of Pseudomonas fluorescens SBW25, adaptive wrinkly spreader (WS) mutants are able to gain access to the air–liquid (A–L) interface of static liquid microcosms and achieve a significant competitive fitness advantage over other non-biofilm-forming competitors. Aerotaxis and flagella-based swimming allows SBW25 cells to move into the high-O2 region located at the top of the liquid column and maintain their position by countering the effects of random cell diffusion, convection and disturbance (i.e. physical displacement). However, wild-type cells showed significantly lower levels of enrichment in this region compared to the archetypal WS, indicating that WS cells employ an additional mechanism to transfer to the A–L interface where displacement is no longer an issue and a biofilm can develop at the top of the liquid column. Preliminary experiments suggest that this might be achieved through the expression of an as yet unidentified surface active agent that is weakly associated with WS cells and alters liquid surface tension, as determined by quantitative tensiometry. The effect of physical displacement on the colonization of the high-O2 region and A–L interface was reduced through the addition of agar or polyethylene glycol to increase liquid viscosity, and under these conditions the competitive fitness of the WS was significantly reduced. These observations suggest that the ability to transfer to the A–L interface from the high-O2 region and remain there without further expenditure of energy (through, for example, the deployment of flagella) is a key evolutionary innovation of the WS, as it allows subsequent biofilm development and significant population increase, thereby affording these adaptive mutants a competitive fitness advantage over non-biofilm-forming competitors located within the liquid column.
Jerdan, R., Kuśmierska, A., Petric, M., & Spiers, A. J. (2019). Penetrating the air-liquid interface is the key to colonization and wrinkly spreader fitness. Microbiology, 165(10). https://doi.org/10.1099/mic.0.000844