Comparison of cell-specific activity between free-living and attached bacteria using isolates and natural assemblages


  • Editor: Aharon Oren

Correspondence: Hans-Peter Grossart, Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Alte Fischerhuette 2, D-16775, Stechlin, Germany. Tel.: +49 33082 699 91; fax: +49 33082 699 17; e-mail:


Marine snow aggregates are microbial hotspots that support high bacterial abundance and activities. We conducted laboratory experiments to compare cell-specific bacterial protein production (BPP) and protease activity between free-living and attached bacteria. Natural bacterial assemblages attached to model aggregates (agar spheres) had threefold higher BPP and two orders of magnitude higher protease activity than their free-living counterpart. These observations could be explained by preferential colonization of the agar spheres by bacteria with inherently higher metabolic activity and/or individual bacteria increasing their metabolism upon attachment to surfaces. In subsequent experiments, we used four strains of marine snow bacteria isolates to test the hypothesis that bacteria could up- and down-regulate their metabolism while on and off an aggregate. The protease activity of attached bacteria was 10–20 times higher than that of free-living bacteria, indicating that the individual strains could increase their protease activity within a short time (2 h) upon attachment to surfaces. Agar spheres with embedded diatom cells were colonized faster than plain agar spheres and the attached bacteria were clustered around the agar-embedded diatom cells, indicating a chemosensing response. Increased protease activity and BPP allow attached bacteria to quickly exploit aggregate resources upon attachment, which may accelerate remineralization of marine snow and reduce the downward carbon fluxes.