Organisms belonging to the genus Rhizobium colonize leguminous plant roots and establish a mutually beneficial symbiosis. Biofilms are structured ecosystems in which microbes are embedded in a matrix of extracellular polymeric substances, and their development is a multistep process. The biofilm formation processes of R. etli CFN42 were analyzed at an early (24-h incubation) and mature stage (72 h), comparing cells in the biofilm with cells remaining in the planktonic stage. A genome-wide microarray analysis identified 498 differentially regulated genes, implying that expression of ~8.3 % of the total R. etli gene content was altered during biofilm formation. In biofilms-attached cells, genes encoding proteins with diverse functions were overexpressed including genes involved in membrane synthesis, transport and chemotaxis, repression of flagellin synthesis, as well as surface components (particularly exopolysaccharides and lipopolysaccharides), in combination with the presence of activators or stimulators of N-acyl-homoserine lactone synthesis This suggests that R. etli is able to sense surrounding environmental conditions and accordingly regulate the transition from planktonic and biofilm growth. In contrast, planktonic cells differentially expressed genes associated with transport, motility (flagellar and twitching) and inhibition of exopolysaccharide synthesis. To our knowledge, this is the first report of nodulation and nitrogen assimilation-related genes being involved in biofilm formation in R. etli. These results contribute to the understanding of the physiological changes involved in biofilm formation by bacteria.
Keywords: Biofilm; Microarrays; Planktonic; Rhizobium etli; Sessile.