Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) and rapidly growing mycobacteria (RGM) such as M. abscessus, M. mucogenicum, M. chelonae, and M. fortuitum, implicated in health care-associated infections, are often isolated from potable water supplies as part of the microbial flora. To understand factors that influence growth in their environmental source, clinical RGM and slowly growing MAC isolates were grown as biofilm in a laboratory batch system. High and low nutrient levels were compared, as well as stainless steel and polycarbonate surfaces. Biofilm growth was measured after 72 h of incubation by enumeration of bacteria from disrupted biofilms and by direct quantitative image analysis of biofilm microcolony structure. RGM biofilm development was influenced more by nutrient level than by substrate material, though both affected biofilm growth for most of the isolates tested. Microcolony structure revealed that RGM develop several different biofilm structures under high-nutrient growth conditions, including pillars of various shapes (M. abscessus and M. fortuitum) and extensive cording (M. abscessus and M. chelonae). Although it is a slowly growing species in the laboratory, a clinical isolate of M. avium developed more culturable biofilm in potable water in 72 h than any of the 10 RGM examined. This indicates that M. avium is better adapted for growth in potable water systems than in laboratory incubation conditions and suggests some advantage that MAC has over RGM in low-nutrient environments
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