New methods for analysis of spatial distribution and co-aggregation of microbial populations in complex biofilms.
Journal article, 2013
In biofilms, microbial activities form gradients of substrates and electron acceptors, creating a complex landscape of microhabitats, often resulting in structured localization of the microbial populations present. To understand the dynamic interplay between and within these populations, quantitative measurements and statistical analysis of their localization patterns within the biofilms are necessary, and adequate automated tools for such analyses are needed. We have designed and applied new methods for fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and digital image analysis of directionally dependent (anisotropic) multispecies biofilms. A sequential-FISH approach allowed multiple populations to be detected in a biofilm sample. This was combined with an automated tool for vertical-distribution analysis by generating in silico biofilm slices and the recently developed Inflate algorithm for coaggregation analysis of microbial populations in anisotropic biofilms. As a proof of principle, we show distinct stratification patterns of the ammonia oxidizers Nitrosomonas oligotropha subclusters I and II and the nitrite oxidizer Nitrospira sublineage I in three different types of wastewater biofilms, suggesting niche differentiation between the N. oligotropha subclusters, which could explain their coexistence in the same biofilms. Coaggregation analysis showed that N. oligotropha subcluster II aggregated closer to Nitrospira than did N. oligotropha subcluster I in a pilot plant nitrifying trickling filter (NTF) and a moving-bed biofilm reactor (MBBR), but not in a full-scale NTF, indicating important ecophysiological differences between these phylogenetically closely related subclusters. By using high-resolution quantitative methods applicable to any multispecies biofilm in general, the ecological interactions of these complex ecosystems can be understood in more detail.