Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of Bacteriology


Geisel School of Medicine


Competitive interactions mediated by released chemicals (e.g., toxins) are prominent in multispecies communities, but the effects of these chemicals at subinhibitory concentrations on susceptible bacteria are poorly understood. Although Pseudomonas aeruginosa and species of the Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) can exist together as a coinfection in cystic fibrosis airways, P. aeruginosa toxins can kill Bcc species in vitro. Consequently, these bacteria become an ideal in vitro model system to study the impact of sublethal levels of toxins on the biology of typical susceptible bacteria, such as the Bcc, when exposed to P. aeruginosa toxins. Using P. aeruginosa spent medium as a source of toxins, we showed that a small window of subinhibitory concentrations modulated the colony morphotype and swarming motility of some but not all tested Bcc strains, for which rhamnolipids were identified as the active molecule. Using a random transposon mutagenesis approach, we identified several genes required by the Bcc to respond to low concentrations of rhamnolipids and consequently affect the ability of this microbe to change its morphotype and swarm over surfaces. Among those genes identified were those coding for type IVb-Tad pili, which are often required for virulence in various bacterial pathogens. Our study demonstrates that manipulating chemical gradients in vitro can lead to the identification of bacterial behaviors relevant to polymicrobial infections.



Original Citation

Bernier SP, Hum C, Li X, O'Toole GA, Magarvey NA, Surette MG. Pseudomonas aeruginosa-Derived Rhamnolipids and Other Detergents Modulate Colony Morphotype and Motility in the Burkholderia cepacia Complex. J Bacteriol. 2017 Jun 13;199(13):e00171-17. doi: 10.1128/JB.00171-17. PMID: 28439038; PMCID: PMC5472820.