The role of intercellular signalling in the regulation of genes and phenotypes in a broad range of bacterial species is now firmly established. In contrast, the impact of intercellular signalling on microbial community parameters, such as species diversity and function, is less well understood. In this study the role of N-acyl-l-homoserine lactones (AHLs) in microbial community dynamics in an industrial wastewater treatment system is addressed. Seven proteobacterial strains producing compounds with AHL-like activity were isolated from the treatment plant. Three of these belong to genera with no previously identified AHL producing species. Addition of AHLs at 2 µM to sludge samples generated changes in both community function (phenol degradation) and composition as determined by length heterogeneity PCR and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis. Phenol degradation was more stable as a result of the AHL augmentation. A dominant functional member of the Thauera genus was transiently supplanted by a member of the Comomonas genus in response to AHL addition. This suggests that AHLs can play a role in mediating microbial community parameters and has implications for ecosystem function and industrial wastewater treatment.
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