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Marine biofilms: diversity, interactions and biofouling

Abstract

Marine biofilms are ubiquitous in the marine environment. These complex microbial communities rapidly respond to environmental changes and encompass hugely diverse microbial structures, functions and metabolisms. Nevertheless, knowledge is limited on the microbial community structures and functions of natural marine biofilms and their influence on global geochemical cycles. Microbial cues, including secondary metabolites and microbial structures, regulate interactions between microorganisms, with their environment and with other benthic organisms, which affects their community succession and metamorphosis. Furthermore, marine biofilms are key mediators of marine biofouling, which greatly affect marine industries. In this Review, we discuss marine biofilm dynamics, including their diversity, abundance and functions. We also highlight knowledge gaps, areas for future research and potential biotechnological applications of marine biofilms.

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Fig. 1: Marine biofilms on different substrates in the ocean.
Fig. 2: Composition of natural marine biofilms.
Fig. 3: The temporal succession of marine biofilms.
Fig. 4: Influence of substrate and location on microbial biofilm diversity.
Fig. 5: Microbial interactions in marine biofilms.
Fig. 6: Interactions of marine biofilm with the benthic ecosystem and marine environment.

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Acknowledgements

The authors are thankful for financial support from the Major Project of Basic and Applied Basic Research of Guangdong Province (2019B030302004), Key Special Project for Introduced Talents Team of the Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory (Guangzhou) (GML2019ZD409), the Hong Kong Branch of Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory (Guangzhou) (SMSEGL20SC01), and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (16101269, C6026-19G-A).

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All authors contributed to the discussion of the content and reviewed or edited the manuscript before submission. A.C., P.Y.Q. and R.W. researched data for the article and A.C., P.Y.Q. and R.Z. wrote the article.

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Glossary

Biofouling

Biofouling is the colonization of submerged surfaces by microorganisms, plants, algae or small animals; it has destructive effects on the substrate.

Biocorrosion

Biocorrosion refers to the deterioration of metal surfaces owing to the presence of biofilms.

Aquaculture

Aquaculture refers to the rearing of aquatic animals or the cultivation of aquatic plants, including breeding, raising and harvesting, for the production of food and commercial products, restoring and creating healthier habitats as well as rebuilding threatened or endangered species populations.

Marine snow

Small organic detritus and inorganic particles drifting towards the seafloor from the upper layers of the water column. Marine snow is formed by dead organisms, faecal matter, sand, soot and other dust.

Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis refers to a biological process of evident and sudden change in animal body structure through cell growth and differentiation after birth or hatching.

Surface wettability

Surface wettability is the tendency of a liquid to spread on or adhere to a solid surface. It is controlled by a balance between adhesive (liquid–surface) and cohesive (liquid–liquid) forces.

Marine benthos

Organisms that are living in or on the surface of the continental shelf and seafloor (sediments and rocks).

Macrofouling

The formation of complex benthic community on man-made marine surfaces after biofilm formation, leading to the substantial build-up of biological and abiotic materials that affects the performance and function of marine surfaces.

Microfouling

Biofilm development on man-made marine surfaces, leading to changes in the physical and chemical properties of the surfaces.

Phage tail-like structures

Protein structures produced by Pseudoalteromonas luteoviolacea that can stimulate larval metamorphosis of the tube-building polychaete Hydroides elegans.

Microbial fuel cells

In a fuel cell system, the microbes on the anode oxidize reduced compounds (known as fuel or electron donors) and divert electrons to high-energy oxidized compounds (also known as oxidizing agents or electron acceptors) on the cathode to generate an electric current through an external electrical circuit.

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Qian, PY., Cheng, A., Wang, R. et al. Marine biofilms: diversity, interactions and biofouling. Nat Rev Microbiol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41579-022-00744-7

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