Life in a Droplet: Microbial Ecology in Microscopic Surface Wetness
. FRONTIERS IN MICROBIOLOGY 2021
While many natural and artificial surfaces may appear dry, they are in fact covered by thin liquid films and microdroplets invisible to the naked eye known as microscopic surface wetness (MSW). Central to the formation and the retention of MSW are the deliquescent properties of hygroscopic salts that prevent complete drying of wet surfaces or that drive the absorption of water until dissolution when the relative humidity is above a salt-specific level. As salts are ubiquitous, MSW occurs in many microbial habitats, such as soil, rocks, plant leaf, and root surfaces, the built environment, and human and animal skin. While key properties of MSW, including very high salinity and segregation into droplets, greatly affect microbial life therein, it has been scarcely studied, and systematic studies are only in their beginnings. Based on recent findings, we propose that the harsh micro-environment that MSW imposes, which is very different from bulk liquid, affects key aspects of bacterial ecology including survival traits, antibiotic response, competition, motility, communication, and exchange of genetic material. Further research is required to uncover the fundamental principles that govern microbial life and ecology in MSW. Such research will require multidisciplinary science cutting across biology, physics, and chemistry, while incorporating approaches from microbiology, genomics, microscopy, and computational modeling. The results of such research will be critical to understand microbial ecology in vast terrestrial habitats, affecting global biogeochemical cycles, as well as plant, animal, and human health.
Two-way microscale interactions between immigrant bacteria and plant leaf microbiota as revealed by live imaging
. ISME JOURNAL 2021
The phyllosphere - the aerial parts of plants - is an important microbial habitat that is home to diverse microbial communities. The spatial organization of bacterial cells on leaf surfaces is non-random, and correlates with leaf microscopic features. Yet, the role of microscale interactions between bacterial cells therein is not well understood. Here, we ask how interactions between immigrant bacteria and resident microbiota affect the spatial organization of the combined community. By means of live imaging in a simplified in vitro system, we studied the spatial organization, at the micrometer scale, of the biocontrol agentPseudomonas fluorescensA506 and the plant pathogenP. syringaeB728a when introduced to pear and bean leaf microbiota (the corresponding native plants of these strains). We found significant co-localization of immigrant and resident microbial cells at distances of a few micrometers, for both strains. Interestingly, this co-localization was in part due to preferential attachment of microbiota cells near newly formedP. fluorescensaggregates. Our results indicate that two-way immigrant bacteria - resident microbiota interactions affect the microscale spatial organization of leaf microbiota, and possibly that of other surface-related microbial communities.
Wet-dry cycles protect surface-colonizing bacteria from major antibiotic classes
. ISME JOURNAL 2021
Diverse antibiotic compounds are abundant in microbial habitats undergoing recurrent wet-dry cycles, such as soil, root and leaf surfaces, and the built environment. These antibiotics play a central role in microbial warfare and competition, thus affecting population dynamics and the composition of natural microbial communities. Yet, the impact of wet-dry cycles on bacterial response to antibiotics has been scarcely explored. Using the bacterium E. coli as a model organism, we show through a combination of experiments and computational modeling, that wet-dry cycles protect bacteria from beta-lactams. This is due to the combined effect of several mechanisms including tolerance induced by high salt concentrations and slow cell-growth, which are inherently associated with microscopic surface wetness-a hydration state typical to `dry' periods. Moreover, we find evidence for a cross-protection effect, where lethal doses of antibiotic considerably increase bacterial survival during the dry periods. This work focuses on beta-lactams, yet similar protection was observed for additional major antibiotic classes. Our findings shed new light on how we understand bacterial response to antibiotics, with broad implications for population dynamics, interspecies interactions, and the evolution of antibiotic resistance in vast terrestrial microbial habitats.
Pairwise Interactions of Three Related Pseudomonas Species in Plant Roots and Inert Surfaces
. FRONTIERS IN MICROBIOLOGY 2021
Bacteria are social organisms that interact extensively within and between species while responding to external stimuli from their environments. Designing synthetic microbial communities can enable efficient and beneficial microbiome implementation in many areas. However, in order to design an efficient community, one must consider the interactions between their members. Using a reductionist approach, we examined pairwise interactions of three related Pseudomonas species in various microenvironments including plant roots and inert surfaces. Our results show that the step between monoculture and co-culture is already very complex. Monoculture root colonization patterns demonstrate that each isolate occupied a particular location on wheat roots, such as root tip, distance from the tip, or scattered along the root. However, pairwise colonization outcomes on the root did not follow the bacterial behavior in monoculture, suggesting various interaction patterns. In addition, we show that interspecies interactions on a microscale on inert surface take part in co-culture colonization and that the interactions are affected by the presence of root extracts and depend on its source. The understanding of interrelationships on the root may contribute to future attempts to manipulate and improve bacterial colonization and to intervene with root microbiomes to construct and design effective synthetic microbial consortia.