N-acyl-homoserine-lactones signaling as a critical control point for phosphorus entrapment by multi-species microbial aggregates

Ying Xu, Thomas Curtis, Jan Dolfing, Yonghong Wu, Bruce E. Rittmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Quorum sensing (QS) has been extensively studied in pure stains of microorganisms, but the ecological roles of QS in multi-species microbial aggregates are poorly understood due to the aggregates’ heterogeneity and complexity, in particular the phosphorus (P) entrapment, a key aspect of element cycling. Using periphytic biofilm as a microbial-aggregate model, we addressed how QS signaling via N-acyl-homoserine-lactones (AHLs) regulated P entrapment. The most-abundant AHLs detected were C8-HSL, 3OC8-HSL, and C12-HSL, are the primary regulator of P entrapment in the periphytic biofilm. QS signaling-AHL is a beneficial molecule for bacterial growth in periphytic biofilm and the addition of these three AHLs optimized polyphosphate accumulating organisms (PAOs) community. Growth promotion was accompanied by up-regulation of pyrimidine, purine and energy metabolism. Both intra- and extra-cellular P entrapment were enhanced in the addition of AHLs. AHLs increased extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) production to drive extracellular P entrapment, via up-regulating amino acids biosynthesis and amino sugar/nucleotide sugar metabolism. Also, AHLs improved intracellular P entrapment potential by regulating genes involved in inorganic-P accumulation (ppk, ppx) and P uptake and transport (pit, pstSCAB). This proof-of-concept evidence about how QS signaling regulates P entrapment by microbial aggregates paves the way for managing QS to enhance P removal by microbial aggregates in aquatic environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number117627
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021


  • N-acyl-homoserine-lactone
  • Periphytic biofilm
  • Phosphorus entrapment
  • Phosphorus entrapment gene
  • Quorum sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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