Investigating prokaryotic communities : group activities and physiological heterogeneity
Wessel, Aimee Katherine
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Bacterial communities engage in social activities, exhibiting behaviors such as communicating with small signaling molecules (quorum sensing [QS]) and building antibiotic-resistant biofilms. The opportunistic human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa produces both freely diffusible QS molecules, as well as a QS molecule that is packaged or transported across cell membranes via the production of outer membrane vesicles. Despite the ubiquity of vesicle production in bacteria, the mechanism of outer membrane vesicle production has not been fully elucidated. In addition, most of our understanding of QS and biofilm formation arises from in vitro studies of bacterial communities containing large numbers of cells, often with greater than 10⁸ bacteria. However, many bacterial communities are comprised of small, densely packed aggregates of cells (≤10⁵ bacteria), and it is unclear how group behaviors and chemical interactions take place in densely packed, small populations. This dissertation has two main goals: i) to provide insights into the mechanism of bacterial membrane vesicle production, and ii) to understand how population size and the spatial distribution of cells affect cell-cell interactions and the nutritional microenvironment within a small (≤10⁵ bacteria) prokaryotic community.