Laboratory strains of Escherichia coli do not show significant ability to attach to solid surfaces and to form biofilms. We compared the adhesion properties of the E. coli PHL565 laboratory strain to eight environmental E. coli isolates: only four isolates displayed adhesion properties to glass significantly higher than PHL565. The ability of the adhesion-proficient isolates to attach to glass tubes strongly correlated with their ability to express curli (thin aggregative fimbriae), thus suggesting that curli are a common adhesion determinant in environmental strains. Despite its inability to attach to solid surfaces, growth of E. coli PHL565 in mixed cultures with Pseudomonas putida MT2 resulted in co-adhesion and in formation of a mixed E. colilP putida biofilm, which was able to colonize glass surfaces with dramatic efficiency compared to P. putida alone. E. colilP. putida interactions stimulate initial adhesion to glass, and the presence of both bacterial species in the mature biofilm was confirmed by quantitative PCR. In contrast, no synergistic biofilm formation was observed in mixed cultures of E coli with the Gram-positive bacterium Staphylococcus epidermidis. Interestingly, E coli PHL565 also stimulated biofilm formation by bacterial communities isolated from drinking water distribution systems. Our results strongly suggest that co-adhesion and synergistic interaction with biofilm-forming species might represent an important mechanism, and a possible alternative strategy to production of adhesion determinants, for persistence and propagation of E. coli in the environment. (c) 2005 Elsevier SAS. All rights reserved.