Enhanced AHL-mediated quorum sensing accelerates the start-up of biofilm reactors by elevating the fitness of fast-growing bacteria in sludge and biofilm communities


Quorum sensing (QS)-based manipulations emerge as a promising solution for biofilm reactors to overcome challenges from inefficient biofilm formation and lengthy start-ups. However, the ecological mechanisms underlying how QS regulates microbial behaviors and community assembly remain elusive. Herein, by introducing different levels of N-acyl-homoserine lactones, we manipulated the strength of QS during the start-up of moving bed biofilm reactors and compared the dynamics of bacterial communities. We found that enhanced QS elevated the fitness of fast-growing bacteria with high ribosomal RNA operon (rrn) copy numbers in their genomes in both the sludge and biofilm communities. This led to notably increased extracellular substance production, as evidenced by strong positive correlations between community-level rrn copy numbers and extracellular proteins and polysaccharides (Pearson's r = 0.529−0.830, P < 0.001). Network analyses demonstrated that enhanced QS significantly promoted the ecological interactions among taxa, particularly cooperative interactions. Bacterial taxa with higher network degrees were more strongly correlated with extracellular substances, suggesting their crucial roles as public goods in regulating bacterial interactions and shaping network structures. However, the assembly of more cooperative communities in QS-enhanced reactors came at the cost of decreased network stability and modularity. Null model and dissimilarity-overlap curve analysis revealed that enhanced QS strengthened stochastic processes in community assembly and rendered the universal population dynamics more convergent. Additionally, these shaping effects were consistent for both the sludge and biofilm communities, underpinning the planktonic-to-biofilm transition. This work highlights that QS manipulations efficiently drive community assembly and confer specialized functional traits to communities by recruiting taxa with specific life strategies and regulating interspecific interactions. These ecological insights deepen our understanding of the rules governing microbial societies and provide guidance for managing engineering ecosystems.