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Title: Mechanical instability and interfacial energy drive biofilm morphogenesis
Engineers have long studied how mechanical instabilities cause patterns to form in inanimate materials, and recently more attention has been given to how such forces affect biological systems. For example, stresses can build up within a tissue if one layer grows faster than an adjacent layer. The tissue can release this stress by wrinkling, folding or creasing. Though ancient and single-celled, bacteria can also develop spectacular patterns when they exist in the lifestyle known as a biofilm: a community of cells adhered to a surface. But do mechanical instabilities drive the patterns seen in biofilms? To investigate, Yan, Fei, Mao et al. grew biofilms of the bacterium called Vibrio cholerae – which causes the disease cholera – on solid, non-growing ‘substrates’. This work revealed that as the biofilms grow, their expansion is constrained by the substrate, and this situation generates mechanical stresses. To release the stresses, the biofilm initially folds to form wrinkles. Later, as the biofilm expands further, small parts of it detach from the substrate to form blisters. The same forces that keep water droplets spherical (known as interfacial forces) dictate how the blisters evolve, interact, and eventually shape the expanding biofilm. Using these principles, Yan et al. more » could engineer the biofilm into desired shapes. Collectively, the results presented by Yan et al. connect the shape of the biofilm surface with its material properties, in particular its stiffness. Understanding this relationship could help researchers to develop new ways to remove harmful biofilms, such as those that cause disease or that damage underwater structures. The stiffness of biofilms is already known to affect how well bacteria can resist antibiotics. Future studies could look for new genes or compounds that change the material properties of a biofilm, thereby altering the biofilm surface. « less
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1713731 1734030
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National Science Foundation
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