Modeling how soluble microbial products (SMP) support heterotrophic bacteria in autotroph-based biofilms

Brian V. Merkey, Bruce Rittmann, David L. Chopp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Multi-species biofilm modeling has been used for many years to understand the interactions between species in different biofilm systems, but the complex symbiotic relationship between species is sometimes overlooked, because models do not always include all relevant species and components. In this paper, we develop and use a mathematical model to describe a model biofilm system that includes autotrophic and heterotrophic bacteria and the key products produced by the bacteria. The model combines the methods of earlier multi-species models with a multi-component biofilm model in order to explore the interaction between species via exchange of soluble microbial products (SMP). We show that multiple parameter sets are able to describe the findings of experimental studies, and that heterotrophs growing on autotrophically produced SMP may pursue either r- or K-strategies to sustain themselves when SMP is their only substrate. We also show that heterotrophs can colonize some distance from the autotrophs and still be sustained by autotrophically produced SMP. This work defines the feasible range of parameters for utilization of SMP by heterotrophs and the nature of the interactions between autotrophs and heterotrophs in multi-species, multi-component biofilms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)670-683
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 21 2009


  • Biofilm model
  • K-strategist
  • Multi-component
  • Multi-species
  • r-strategist

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Applied Mathematics


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