Modulation of metabolism and switching to biofilm prevail over exopolysaccharide production in the response of Rhizobium alamii to cadmium

PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e26771. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026771. Epub 2011 Nov 9.


Heavy metals such as cadmium (Cd(2+)) affect microbial metabolic processes. Consequently, bacteria adapt by adjusting their cellular machinery. We have investigated the dose-dependent growth effects of Cd(2+) on Rhizobium alamii, an exopolysaccharide (EPS)-producing bacterium that forms a biofilm on plant roots. Adsorption isotherms show that the EPS of R. alamii binds cadmium in competition with calcium. A metabonomics approach based on ion cyclotron resonance Fourier transform mass spectrometry has showed that cadmium alters mainly the bacterial metabolism in pathways implying sugars, purine, phosphate, calcium signalling and cell respiration. We determined the influence of EPS on the bacterium response to cadmium, using a mutant of R. alamii impaired in EPS production (MSΔGT). Cadmium dose-dependent effects on the bacterial growth were not significantly different between the R. alamii wild type (wt) and MSΔGT strains. Although cadmium did not modify the quantity of EPS isolated from R. alamii, it triggered the formation of biofilm vs planktonic cells, both by R. alamii wt and by MSΔGT. Thus, it appears that cadmium toxicity could be managed by switching to a biofilm way of life, rather than producing EPS. We conclude that modulations of the bacterial metabolism and switching to biofilms prevails in the adaptation of R. alamii to cadmium. These results are original with regard to the conventional role attributed to EPS in a biofilm matrix, and the bacterial response to cadmium.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biofilms / drug effects*
  • Cadmium / toxicity*
  • Polysaccharides, Bacterial / biosynthesis*
  • Rhizobium / drug effects*
  • Rhizobium / genetics
  • Rhizobium / growth & development
  • Rhizobium / metabolism*


  • Polysaccharides, Bacterial
  • Cadmium