Journal of bacteriology

A combination of glycerol and manganese promotes biofilm formation in Bacillus subtilis via histidine kinase KinD signaling.

PMID 23564171


The spore-forming bacterium Bacillus subtilis forms matrix-enclosed biofilms in response to environmental cues that to date remain poorly defined. Biofilm formation depends on the synthesis of an extracellular matrix, which is indirectly regulated by the transcriptional regulator Spo0A. The activity of Spo0A depends on its phosphorylation state. The level of phosphorylated Spo0A (Spo0A~P) is controlled by a network of kinases and phosphatases, which respond to environmental and physiological signals. In spite of significant progress in understanding biofilm development, the fundamental question of how cells sense the environmental cues that trigger biofilm formation has largely remained unaddressed. Here, we report that biofilm formation of B. subtilis in LB medium is triggered by a combination of glycerol and manganese (GM). Moreover, LB medium with GM significantly stimulates biofilm-associated sporulation and production of an undefined brown pigment. We further show that transcription of the major operons responsible for matrix production and biofilm formation is dramatically enhanced in response to GM. We also establish that KinD is a principal histidine kinase responsible for sensing the presence of GM exclusively by its extracellular CACHE domain. Finally, we show that GM has a similar biofilm-promoting effect in two related Bacillus species, B. licheniformis and B. cereus, indicating that the biofilm-promoting effect of GM is conserved in Bacillus species.