Multi-species biofilms: living with friendly neighbors

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2012 Sep;36(5):990-1004. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6976.2012.00325.x. Epub 2012 Feb 2.


Our knowledge regarding the nature and development of microbial biofilms has grown significantly since the first report of these communities by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in the late 1600s. Nevertheless, most biofilm studies examine mono-species cultures, whereas nearly all biofilm communities in nature comprise a variety of microorganisms. The species that constitute a mixed biofilm and the interactions between these microorganisms critically influence the development and shape of the community. In this review, we focus on interactions occurring within a multi-species biofilm and their effects on the nature of the mixed community. In general, interspecies interactions involve communication, typically via quorum sensing, and metabolic cooperation or competition. Interactions among species within a biofilm can be antagonistic, such as competition over nutrients and growth inhibition, or synergistic. The latter can result in the development of several beneficial phenotypes. These include the promotion of biofilm formation by co-aggregation, metabolic cooperation where one species utilizes a metabolite produced by a neighboring species, and increased resistance to antibiotics or host immune responses compared to the mono-species biofilms. These beneficial interactions in mixed biofilms have important environmental, industrial, and clinical implications. The latter, for example, impacts the course and treatment of biofilm-related infections, such as those manifested in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients.

Keywords: antibiotic resistance; biofilm; cell-cell communication; metabolic interaction; polymicrobial; spatial distribution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibiosis
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Biofilms*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial
  • Humans
  • Quorum Sensing