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Summary

The interaction of Vibrio cholerae with chitin exemplifies for microbial ecology a successful bacteria–substrate interaction with complex and significant influence on the lifestyle of the bacterium. Chitin is one of the most abundant polymers on earth and possibly the most abundant in the aquatic environment, where its association with V. cholerae has provided the microorganism with a number of advantages, including food availability, adaptation to environmental nutrient gradients, tolerance to stress and protection from predators. Emergent properties of V. cholerae–chitin interactions occur at multiple hierarchical levels in the environment and include cell metabolic and physiological responses e.g. chemotaxis, cell multiplication, induction of competence, biofilm formation, commensal and symbiotic relationship with higher organisms, cycling of nutrients, and pathogenicity for humans and aquatic animals. As factors mediating virulence of V. cholerae for humans and aquatic animals derive from mechanisms of adaptation to its environment, at different levels of hierarchical scale, V. cholerae interactions with chitin represent a useful model for examination of the role of primary habitat selection in the development of traits that have been identified as virulence factors in human disease.