Quorum sensing regulates 'swim-or-stick' lifestyle in the phycosphere

Environ Microbiol. 2020 Nov;22(11):4761-4778. doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.15228. Epub 2020 Sep 17.


Interactions between phytoplankton and bacteria play major roles in global biogeochemical cycles and oceanic nutrient fluxes. These interactions occur in the microenvironment surrounding phytoplankton cells, known as the phycosphere. Bacteria in the phycosphere use either chemotaxis or attachment to benefit from algal excretions. Both processes are regulated by quorum sensing (QS), a cell-cell signalling mechanism that uses small infochemicals to coordinate bacterial gene expression. However, the role of QS in regulating bacterial attachment in the phycosphere is not clear. Here, we isolated a Sulfitobacter pseudonitzschiae F5 and a Phaeobacter sp. F10 belonging to the marine Roseobacter group and an Alteromonas macleodii F12 belonging to Alteromonadaceae, from the microbial community of the ubiquitous diatom Asterionellopsis glacialis. We show that only the Roseobacter group isolates (diatom symbionts) can attach to diatom transparent exopolymeric particles. Despite all three bacteria possessing genes involved in motility, chemotaxis, and attachment, only S. pseudonitzschiae F5 and Phaeobacter sp. F10 possessed complete QS systems and could synthesize QS signals. Using UHPLC-MS/MS, we identified three QS molecules produced by both bacteria of which only 3-oxo-C16:1 -HSL strongly inhibited bacterial motility and stimulated attachment in the phycosphere. These findings suggest that QS signals enable colonization of the phycosphere by algal symbionts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 4-Butyrolactone / analogs & derivatives
  • 4-Butyrolactone / metabolism
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacterial Adhesion* / genetics
  • Diatoms / microbiology*
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Locomotion* / genetics
  • Microbiota
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Phytoplankton / microbiology*
  • Quorum Sensing / genetics
  • Quorum Sensing / physiology*


  • homoserine lactone
  • 4-Butyrolactone