Enhanced survival of multi-species biofilms under stress is promoted by low-abundant but antimicrobial-resistant keystone species

Wisnu Adi Wicaksono*, Sabine Erschen, Robert Krause, Henry Müller, Tomislav Cernava, Gabriele Berg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Multi-species biofilms are more resistant against stress compared to single-species biofilms. However, the mechanisms underlying this common observation remain elusive. Therefore, we studied biofilm formation of well-known opportunistic pathogens (Acinetobacter baumanii, Enterococcus faecium, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus haemolyticus and Stenotrophomonas maltophilia) in various approaches. Synergistic effects in their multi-species biofilms were observed. Using metatranscriptomics, changes in the gene expression of the involved members became evident, and provided explanations for the improved survivability under nutrient limitation and exposure to disinfectants. Genes encoding proteins for vitamin B6 synthesis and iron uptake were linked to synergism in the multi-species biofilm under nutrient-limited conditions. Our study indicates that sub-lethal concentrations of an alcohol-based disinfectant enhance biofilm yields in multi-species assemblages. A reduction of the dominant taxa in the multi-species biofilm under disinfectant pressure allowed minor taxa to bloom. The findings underline the importance of minor but antimicrobial-resistant species that serve as “protectors” for the whole assemblage due to upregulation of genes involved in defence mechanisms and biofilm formation. This ultimately results in an increase in the total yield of the multi-species biofilm. We conclude that inter-species interactions may be crucial for the survival of opportunistic pathogens; especially under conditions that are typically found under hospital settings.
Original languageEnglish
Article number126836
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2022


  • Biofilm
  • Metatranscriptomic
  • Multi-species
  • Opportunistic pathogen
  • Synergism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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