Biofilms are ubiquitous surface-associated microbial communities embedded in an extracellular polymeric (EPS) matrix, which gives the biofilm structural integrity and strength. It is often reported that biofilm-grown cells exhibit enhanced tolerance toward adverse environmental stress conditions, and thus there has been a growing interest in recent years to use biofilms for biotechnological applications. We present a time- and locus-resolved, noninvasive, quantitative approach to study biofilm development and its response to the toxic solvent styrene. Pseudomonas sp. strain VLB120ΔC-BT-gfp1 was grown in modified flow-cell reactors and exposed to the solvent styrene. Biofilm-grown cells displayed stable catalytic activity, producing (S)-styrene oxide continuously during the experimental period. The pillar-like structure and growth rate of the biofilm was not influenced by the presence of the solvent. However, the cells experience severe membrane damage during styrene treatment, although they obviously are able to adapt to the solvent, as the amount of permeabilized cells decreased from 75 to 80% down to 40% in 48 h. Concomitantly, the fraction of concanavalin A (ConA)-stainable EPS increased, substantiating the assumption that those polysaccharides play a major role in structural integrity and enhanced biofilm tolerance toward toxic environments. Compared to control experiments with planktonic grown cells, the Pseudomonas biofilm adapted much better to toxic concentrations of styrene, as nearly 65% of biofilm cells were not permeabilized (viable), compared to only 7% in analogous planktonic cultures. These findings underline the robustness of biofilms under stress conditions and its potential for fine chemical syntheses
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