Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Eric S. Gilbert - Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Sidney Crow

Third Advisor

Dr. George Pierce


The primary objectives of this research were to demonstrate that: 1.) antibiotic resistant bacteria can promote the survival of antibiotic sensitive organisms when grown simultaneously as biofilms in antibiotics, 2.) community-level multiple antibiotic resistance of polymicrobial consortia can lead to biofilm formation despite the presence of multiple antibiotics, and 3.) biofilms may benefit plasmid retention and heterologous protein production in the absence of selective pressure. Quantitative analyses of confocal data showed that ampicillin resistant organisms supported populations of ampicillin sensitive organisms in steady state ampicillin concentrations 13 times greater than that which would inhibit sensitive cells inoculated alone. The rate of reaction of the resistance mechanism influenced the degree of protection. Spectinomycin resistant organisms did not support their sensitive counterparts, although flow cytometry indicated that GFP production by the sensitive strain was improved. When both organisms were grown in both antibiotics, larger numbers of substratum-attached pairs at 2 hours resulted in greater biofilm formation at 48 hours. For biofilms grown in both antibiotics, a benefit to spectinomycin resistant organism’s population size was detectable, but the only benefit to ampicillin resistant organisms was in terms of GFP production. Additionally, an initial attachment ratio of 5 spectinomycin resistant organisms to 1 ampicillin resistant organism resulted in optimal biofilm formation at 48 hours. Biofilms also enhanced the stability of high-copy number plasmids and heterologous protein production. In the absence of antibiotic selective pressure, plasmid DNA was not detected after 48 hours in chemostats, where the faster growth rate of plasmid-free cells contributed to the washout of plasmid retaining cells. The plasmid copy number per cell in biofilms grown without antibiotic selective pressure steadily increased over a six day period. Flow cytometric monitoring of bacteria grown in biofilms indicated that 95 percent of the population was producing GFP at 48 hours. This research supports the idea that ecological interactions between bacteria contribute to biofilm development in the presence of antibiotics, and demonstrates that community-level multiple antibiotic resistance is a factor in biofilm recalcitrance against antibiotics. Additionally, biofilms may provide an additional tool for stabilizing high copy number plasmids used for heterologous protein production.

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