Environmental signals and regulatory pathways that influence biofilm formation.
In nature, bacteria often exist as biofilms. Here, we discuss the environmental signals and regulatory proteins that affect both the initiation of bacterial biofilm formation and the nature of the mature biofilm structure. Current research suggests that the environmental signals regulating whether bacterial cells will initiate a biofilm differ from one bacterial species to another. This may allow each bacterial species to colonize its preferred environment efficiently. In contrast, some of the environmental signals that have currently been identified to regulate the structure of a mature biofilm are nutrient availability and quorum sensing, and are not species specific. These environmental signals evoke changes in the nature of the mature biofilm that may ensure optimal nutrient acquisition. Nutrient availability regulates the depth of the biofilm in such a way that the maximal number of cells in a biofilm appears to occur at suboptimal nutrient concentrations. At either extreme, nutrient-rich or very nutrient-poor conditions, greater numbers of cells are in the planktonic phase where they have greater access to the local nutrients or can be distributed to a new environment. Similarly, quorum-sensing control of the formation of channels and pillar-like structures may ensure efficient nutrient delivery to cells in a biofilm.