Impact of spatial proximity on territoriality among human skin bacteria

Jhonatan A Hernandez-Valdes, Lu Zhou, Marcel P de Vries, Oscar P Kuipers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
91 Downloads (Pure)


Bacteria display social behavior and establish cooperative or competitive interactions in the niches they occupy. The human skin is a densely populated environment where many bacterial species live. Thus, bacterial inhabitants are expected to find a balance in these interactions, which eventually defines their spatial distribution and the composition of our skin microbiota. Unraveling the physiological basis of the interactions between bacterial species in organized environments requires reductionist analyses using functionally relevant species. Here, we study the interaction between two members of our skin microbiota, Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus epidermidis. We show that B. subtilis actively responds to the presence of S. epidermidis in its proximity by two strategies: antimicrobial production and development of a subpopulation with migratory response. The initial response of B. subtilis is production of chlorotetain, which degrades the S. epidermidis at the colony level. Next, a subpopulation of B. subtilis motile cells emerges. Remarkably this subpopulation slides towards the remaining S. epidermidis colony and engulfs it. A slow response back from S. epidermidis cells give origin to resistant cells that prevent both attacks from B. subtilis. We hypothesized that this niche conquering and back-down response from B. subtilis and S. epidermidis, respectively, which resembles other conflicts in nature as the ones observed in animals, may play a role in defining the presence of certain bacterial species in the specific microenvironments that these bacteria occupy on our skin.

Original languageEnglish
Article number30
Number of pages13
JournalNPJ biofilms and microbiomes
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1-Dec-2020

Cite this