An in vitro model for the cultivation of polymicrobial biofilms under continuous-flow conditions.
The airways of people with cystic fibrosis (CF) are often chronically colonised with a diverse array of bacterial and fungal species. However, little is known about the relative partitioning of species between the planktonic and biofilm modes of growth in the airways. Existing in vivo and in vitro models of CF airway infection are ill-suited for the long-term recapitulation of mixed microbial communities. Here we describe a simple, in vitro continuous-flow model for the cultivation of polymicrobial biofilms and planktonic cultures on different substrata. Our data provide evidence for inter-species antagonism and synergism in biofilm ecology. We further show that the type of substratum on which the biofilms grow has a profound influence on their species composition. This happens without any major alteration in the composition of the surrounding steady-state planktonic community. Our experimentally-tractable model enables the systematic study of planktonic and biofilm communities under conditions that are nutritionally reminiscent of the CF airway microenvironment, something not possible using any existing in vivo models of CF airway infection.