Long-Range Coordination and Emergent Dynamics in Bacterial Biofilm Communities

Friday, October 23, 2015 - 2:00pm
Fung Auditorium, Powell-Focht Bioengineering Hall
Gurol Suel

Associate Professor
Division of Biological Sciences
University of California, San Diego

Long-Range Coordination and Emergent Dynamics in Bacterial Biofilm Communities


Bacteria have been intensely studied for over a century and as a result we have gleaned many fundamental insights into biology. However, we are still relatively in the dark in regards to bacterial behavior within densely packed communities known as biofilms. I will present our latest efforts to develop new quantitative experimental approaches and mathematical modeling to study biofilms. In particular, I will share our findings on long-range coordination of metabolic activities within biofilms that give rise to oscillations in space and time, which can enhance collective fitness. Finally, I will present the discovery of a new form of bacterial cell-cell communication.


Dr. Suel received his Ph.D in Molecular Biophysics and during his thesis work with Dr. Rama Ranganathan, he was part of a team that challenged the traditional view of proteins. Specifically, Dr. Suel was involved in the developed of a mathematical approach that integrated evolutionary information with biophysical data and uncovered a new principle that explained the link between protein structure and function. As a postdoc in the lab of Dr. Michael Elowitz, he generated the first direct experimental evidence that molecular noise (randomness) can determine cell fate outcomes. After starting his independent laboratory in 2007, Dr. Suel continued to define a biological role for noise by integrating single cell measurements, synthetic biology and mathematical modeling. More recently, his laboratory began to study bacterial biofilm communities, which resulted in the discovery of a cell death pattern that emerges during biofilm development and determines colony morphology by channeling mechanical forces. His group used this insight to engineer the 3D organization of biofilms by controlling cell death. More recently Dr Suel’s group developed a microfluidics method to study biofilm growth and uncovered oscillations driven by spatial-temporal coordination of metabolic states among distant cells. These collective oscillations were shown to increase the resilience of biofilms against chemical attack by resolving the social conflict between cooperation and competition among bacteria. The Suel laboratory is currently investigating novel mechanisms for long-range signaling among bacteria that reside within biofilms.