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Genes & Dev. 22 (7): 945-953

Copyright © 2008 by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

Control of cell fate by the formation of an architecturally complex bacterial community

Hera Vlamakis1,3, Claudio Aguilar1,3, Richard Losick2,, and Roberto Kolter1,4

1 Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA;
2 Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

Abstract: Bacteria form architecturally complex communities known as biofilms in which cells are held together by an extracellular matrix. Biofilms harbor multiple cell types, and it has been proposed that within biofilms individual cells follow different developmental pathways, resulting in heterogeneous populations. Here we demonstrate cellular differentiation within biofilms of the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus subtilis, and present evidence that formation of the biofilm governs differentiation. We show that motile, matrix-producing, and sporulating cells localize to distinct regions within the biofilm, and that the localization and percentage of each cell type is dynamic throughout development of the community. Importantly, mutants that do not produce extracellular matrix form unstructured biofilms that are deficient in sporulation. We propose that sporulation is a culminating feature of biofilm formation, and that spore formation is coupled to the formation of an architecturally complex community of cells.

Key Words: Bacillus • biofilm • cell fate • development • multicellularity]

Received for publication December 19, 2007. Accepted for publication February 6, 2008.

3 These authors contributed equally to this work.

4 Corresponding author.

E-MAIL rkolter{at}; FAX (671) 738-7664.

Supplemental material is available at

Article is online at

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