Indole production provides limited benefit to Escherichia coli during co-culture with Enterococcus faecalis
Biofilms have been implicated as an important reservoir for pathogens and commensal enteric bacteria such as Escherichia coli in natural and engineered water systems. However, the processes that regulate the survival of E. coli in aquatic biofilms have not been thoroughly studied. We examined the effects of hydrodynamic shear and nutrient concentrations on E. coli colonization of pre-established Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms, co-inoculation of E. coli and P. aeruginosa biofilms, and P. aeruginosa colonization of pre-established E. coli biofilms. In nutritionally-limited R2A medium, E. coli dominated biofilms when co-inoculated with P. aeruginosa, and successfully colonized and overgrew pre-established P. aeruginosa biofilms. In more enriched media, P. aeruginosa formed larger clusters, but E. coli still extensively overgrew and colonized the interior of P. aeruginosa clusters. In mono-culture, E. coli formed sparse and discontinuous biofilms. After P. aeruginosa was introduced to these biofilms, E. coli growth increased substantially, resulting in patterns of biofilm colonization similar to those observed under other sequences of organism introduction, i.e., E. coli overgrew P. aeruginosa and colonized the interior of P. aeruginosa clusters. These results demonstrate that E. coli not only persists in aquatic biofilms under depleted nutritional conditions, but interactions with P. aeruginosa can greatly increase E. coli growth in biofilms under these experimental conditions.