In nature, bacteria form biofilms in very diverse environments, involving a range of specific properties and exhibiting competitive advantages for surface colonization. However, the underlying mechanisms are difficult to decipher. In particular, the contribution of cell flagellar motility to biofilm formation remains unclear. Here, we examined the ability of motile and nonmotile E. coli cells to form a biofilm in a well-controlled geometry, both in a simple situation involving a single-species biofilm and in the presence of co-colonizers. Using a millifluidic channel, we determined that motile cells have a clear disadvantage in forming a biofilm, exhibiting a long delay as compared to nonmotile cells. By monitoring biofilm development in real time, we observed that the decisive impact of flagellar motility on biofilm formation consists in the alteration of surface access time potentially highly dependent on the geometry of the environment to be colonized. We also report that the difference between motile and nonmotile cells in the ability to form a biofilm diminishes in the presence of co-colonizers, which could be due to motility inhibition through the consumption of key resources by the co-colonizers. We conclude that the impact of flagellar motility on surface colonization closely depends on the environment properties and the population features, suggesting a unifying vision of the role of cell motility in surface colonization and biofilm formation.
Keywords: biofilm; co-colonization; colonization kinetics; competition; fluorescence; microscopy; millifluidic channel; motility.
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