In the Lit: Automated quantification of Candida albicans biofilm-related phenotypes reveals additive contributions to biofilm production

Biofilms are organized communities of microbial cells that promote persistence among bacterial and fungal species. Biofilm formation by host-associated Candida species of fungi occurs on both tissue surfaces and implanted devices, contributing to host colonization and disease. In C. albicans, biofilms are built sequentially by adherence of yeast to a surface, invasion into the substrate, the formation of aerial hyphal projections, and the secretion of extracellular matrix. Measurement of these biofilm-related phenotypes remains highly qualitative and often subjective. Here, we designed an informatics pipeline for quantifying filamentation, adhesion, and invasion of Candida species on solid agar media and utilized this approach to determine the importance of these component phenotypes to C. albicans biofilm production. Characterization of 23 C. albicans clinical isolates across three media and two temperatures revealed a wide range of phenotypic responses among isolates in any single condition. Media profoundly altered all biofilm-related phenotypes among these isolates, whereas temperature minimally impacted these traits. Importantly, the extent of biofilm formation correlated significantly with the additive score for its component phenotypes under some conditions, experimentally linking the strength of each component to biofilm mass. In addition, the response of the genome reference strain, SC5314, across these conditions was an extreme outlier compared to all other strains, suggesting it may not be representative of the species. Taken together, development of a high-throughput, unbiased approach to quantifying Candida biofilm-related phenotypes linked variability in these phenotypes to biofilm production and can facilitate genetic dissection of these critical processes to pathogenesis in the host.