Chemical communication between competing bacteria in multi-species environments often enables both species to adapt and survive, and perhaps even thrive. P. aeruginosa and S. aureus are two bacterial pathogens found in natural biofilms, especially in the lungs of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients, where recent studies showed that there is often cooperation between the two species, leading to increased disease severity and antibiotic resistance. However, the mechanisms behind this cooperation are poorly understood. In this study, we analyzed co-cultured biofilms in various settings, and we applied untargeted mass spectrometry-based metabolomics analyses, combined with synthetic validation of candidate compounds. We unexpectedly discovered that S. aureus can convert pyochelin into pyochelin methyl ester, an analogue of pyochelin with reduced affinity for iron (III). This conversion allows S. aureus to coexist more readily with P. aeruginosa and unveils a mechanism underlying the formation of robust dual-species biofilms.
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