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Bacteria can form dense communities called biofilms, where cells are embedded in a self-produced extracellular matrix. Exploiting competitive interactions between strains within the biofilm context can have potential applications in biological, medical, and industrial systems. By combining mathematical modelling with experimental assays, we reveal that spatial structure and competitive dynamics within biofilms are significantly affected by the location and density of the founder cells used to inoculate the biofilm. Using a species-independent theoretical framework describing colony biofilm formation, we show that the observed spatial structure and relative strain biomass in a mature biofilm comprising two isogenic strains can be mapped directly to the geographical distributions of founder cells. Moreover, we define a predictor of competitive outcome that accurately forecasts relative abundance of strains based solely on the founder cells’ potential for radial expansion. Consequently, we reveal that variability of competitive outcome in biofilms inoculated at low founder density is a natural consequence of the random positioning of founding cells in the inoculum. Extension of our study to non-isogenic strains that interact through local antagonisms, shows that even for strains with different competition strengths, a race for space remains the dominant mode of competition in low founder density biofilms. Our results, verified by experimental assays using Bacillus subtilis, highlight the importance of spatial dynamics on competitive interactions within biofilms and hence to related applications.
- Theoretical ecology
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- 3 Finished