This project aims to elucidate the aging and disassembly process of bacterial multicellular communities known as biofilms. In natural environments, bacteria, once considered solitary, live socially in multicellular communities. These communities play critical roles in many aspects of ecology, agriculture, and sustainability. Understanding development of these bacterial communities is a topic of wide interest, yet the existing knowledge on this subject, particularly in the aging and disassembly phase of the developmental cycle, is largely lacking. The project focuses on how important environmental and physiological signals influence bacterial social development. Learning about this signaling process will increase basic understanding of bacterial multicellular development and enhance the ability to modify these bacterial communities in practical situations such as agriculture and sustainability. The project will also integrate aspects of research and teaching and will extensively involve training of graduate students and recruitment of undergraduate students motivated to gain hands on research experiences early in their education. The project will also serve as a platform to improve curricular offerings, will involve community outreach, and will support specific STEM programs in the region.

The goal of this project is to elucidate the aging and disassembly process of multicellular development in a model bacterium Bacillus subtilis. A combination of cell biological, molecular genetic, and biochemical approaches will be taken to specifically study how reactive oxygen species (ROS), a common and important environmental signal, triggers oxidative stress and influences bacterial multicellular development and cell differentiation in B. subtilis. The PI will test the hypothesis that biofilm aging and disassembly is a function of ROS-triggered DNA damage and its effects on the proteolytic breakdown of various cellular regulatory components. This could inform our understanding of bacterial multicellular structures and how the dynamics of their regulation compares with some aspects of eukaryotic multicellular organization, while further revealing a molecular link between ROS-triggered DNA damage response and bacterial multicellular development. It will extend the current understanding of the biological function of the DNA damage response beyond free-living bacterial cells and allow for a better understanding of how bacterial multicellular communities age and disassemble in response to both internal and environmental signals.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB)
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Steve Clouse
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Northeastern University
United States
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