Transient alginate gene expression by Pseudomonas putida biofilm residents under water-limiting conditions reflects adaptation to the local environment


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Under water-limiting conditions Pseudomonas putida produces the exopolysaccharide alginate, which influences biofilm development and facilitates maintaining a hydrated microenvironment. Since alginate is a minor biofilm matrix component it is important to determine whether alginate production occurs by all or a subset of residents, and when and to what extent cells contribute to alginate production. To address these questions we employed stable and unstable fluorescent reporters to measure alginate biosynthesis (algD) operon expression and metabolic activity in vivo quantitatively by flow cytometry and visually by microscopy. Here we report that during growth under water-limiting conditions and when biofilms become dehydrated most residents transiently express the alginate biosynthesis genes leading to distinct spatial patterns as the biofilm ages. Transient alginate gene expression was not a consequence of decreased metabolic activity, since metabolic reporters were still expressed, nor was it likely due to transient cytosolic availability of the alternative sigma factor AlgT, based on qRT-PCR. Our findings also indicate that one or more biofilm attribute, other than alginate, provides protection from desiccation stress. Collectively, our findings suggest that differentiated cells dedicated to alginate production are not part of the P. putida biofilm lifestyle under water-limiting conditions. Alternatively, P. putida biofilm cells may be responding to their own local environment, producing alginate because of the fitness advantage it confers under those particular conditions.