Search for a Shared Genetic or Biochemical Basis for Biofilm Tolerance to Antibiotics across Bacterial Species

Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2022 Apr 19;66(4):e0002122. doi: 10.1128/aac.00021-22. Epub 2022 Mar 10.


Is there a universal genetically programmed defense providing tolerance to antibiotics when bacteria grow as biofilms? A comparison between biofilms of three different bacterial species by transcriptomic and metabolomic approaches uncovered no evidence of one. Single-species biofilms of three bacterial species (Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Staphylococcus aureus, and Acinetobacter baumannii) were grown in vitro for 3 days and then challenged with respective antibiotics (ciprofloxacin, daptomycin, and tigecycline) for an additional 24 h. All three microorganisms displayed reduced susceptibility in biofilms compared to planktonic cultures. Global transcriptomic profiling of gene expression comparing biofilm to planktonic and antibiotic-treated biofilm to untreated biofilm was performed. Extracellular metabolites were measured to characterize the utilization of carbon sources between biofilms, treated biofilms, and planktonic cells. While all three bacteria exhibited a species-specific signature of stationary phase, no conserved gene, gene set, or common functional pathway could be identified that changed consistently across the three microorganisms. Across the three species, glucose consumption was increased in biofilms compared to planktonic cells, and alanine and aspartic acid utilization were decreased in biofilms compared to planktonic cells. The reasons for these changes were not readily apparent in the transcriptomes. No common shift in the utilization pattern of carbon sources was discerned when comparing untreated to antibiotic-exposed biofilms. Overall, our measurements do not support the existence of a common genetic or biochemical basis for biofilm tolerance against antibiotics. Rather, there are likely myriad genes, proteins, and metabolic pathways that influence the physiological state of individual microorganisms in biofilms and contribute to antibiotic tolerance.

Keywords: antibiotic; biofilms; metabolomic; physiology; tolerance; transcriptomic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / pharmacology
  • Biofilms*
  • Carbon
  • Plankton / genetics
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / genetics
  • Staphylococcus aureus / genetics


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Carbon