Bacteriophage and associated polysaccharide depolymerases – novel tools for study of bacterial biofilms


Kevin A.Hughes British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0ET (e-mail:


Bacteriophage for three representative strains of Gram-negative biofilm bacteria have proved to be of widespread occurrence. Lytic bacteriophage have been isolated from local sewage for the bacterium 1·15, an exopolysaccharide (EPS)-producing pseudomonad found originally as a component of biofilms in a local river, and for two Enterobacter agglomerans strains from industrial biofilms. Representative examples of all three bacteriophage possess a relatively low burst size and on solid media, exhibit very large plaques surrounded by a wide halo (5–20 mm) indicative of polysaccharide depolymerase action. The bacteriophage are thus similar to other viruses for EPS-producing bacteria in inducing the synthesis of enzymes degrading the polymers which occlude the bacterial cell surface. In each preparation, the polysaccharase activity was associated both with sedimented phage particles and with the supernate of bacterial lysates. The enzymes have been partially purified and used to prepare polysaccharide digests in which the major products from each polysaccharide are the presumed repeat units of the polymers or oligomers of these. The soluble phage enzymes each degrade their substrate by acting as endo-glycanohydrolases. The phage and their associated enzymes thus provide very useful highly specific tools for studies of biofilms incorporating the bacterial host strains. Their potential applications in studies on bacterial biofilms are discussed.