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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 23, 2024
  3. Abstract

    Human microbiome composition is closely tied to health, but how the host manages its microbial inhabitants remains unclear. One important, but understudied, factor is the natural host environment: mucus, which contains gel-forming glycoproteins (mucins) that display hundreds of glycan structures with potential regulatory function. Leveraging a tractable culture-based system to study how mucins influence oral microbial communities, we found that mucin glycans enable the coexistence of diverse microbes, while resisting disease-associated compositional shifts. Mucins from tissues with unique glycosylation differentially tuned microbial composition, as did isolated mucin glycan libraries, uncovering the importance of specific glycan patterns in microbiome modulation. We found that mucins shape microbial communities in several ways: serving as nutrients to support metabolic diversity, organizing spatial structure through reduced aggregation, and possibly limiting antagonism between competing taxa. Overall, this work identifies mucin glycans as a natural host mechanism and potential therapeutic intervention to maintain healthy microbial communities.

  4. Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 25, 2023
  5. How do growing bacterial colonies get their shapes? While colony morphogenesis is well studied in two dimensions, many bacteria grow as large colonies in three-dimensional (3D) environments, such as gels and tissues in the body or subsurface soils and sediments. Here, we describe the morphodynamics of large colonies of bacteria growing in three dimensions. Using experiments in transparent 3D granular hydrogel matrices, we show that dense colonies of four different species of bacteria generically become morphologically unstable and roughen as they consume nutrients and grow beyond a critical size—eventually adopting a characteristic branched, broccoli-like morphology independent of variations in the cell type and environmental conditions. This behavior reflects a key difference between two-dimensional (2D) and 3D colonies; while a 2D colony may access the nutrients needed for growth from the third dimension, a 3D colony inevitably becomes nutrient limited in its interior, driving a transition to unstable growth at its surface. We elucidate the onset of the instability using linear stability analysis and numerical simulations of a continuum model that treats the colony as an “active fluid” whose dynamics are driven by nutrient-dependent cellular growth. We find that when all dimensions of the colony substantially exceed the nutrient penetration length,more »nutrient-limited growth drives a 3D morphological instability that recapitulates essential features of the experimental observations. Our work thus provides a framework to predict and control the organization of growing colonies—as well as other forms of growing active matter, such as tumors and engineered living materials—in 3D environments.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 25, 2023
  6. Functionalized cellulosics have shown promise as naturally derived thermoresponsive gelling agents. However, the dynamics of thermally induced phase transitions of these polymers at the lower critical solution temperature (LCST) are not fully understood. Here, with experiments and theoretical considerations, we address how molecular architecture dictates the mechanisms and dynamics of phase transitions for cellulose ethers. Above the LCST, we show that hydroxypropyl substituents favor the spontaneous formation of liquid droplets, whereas methyl substituents induce fibril formation through diffusive growth. In celluloses which contain both methyl and hydroxypropyl substituents, fibrillation initiates after liquid droplet formation, suppressing the fibril growth to a sub-diffusive rate. Unlike for liquid droplets, the dissolution of fibrils back into the solvated state occurs with significant thermal hysteresis. We tune this hysteresis by altering the content of substituted hydroxypropyl moieties. This work provides a systematic study to decouple competing mechanisms during the phase transition of multi-functionalized macromolecules.
  7. Wodarz, Dominik (Ed.)
    The spreading of bacterial populations is central to processes in agriculture, the environment, and medicine. However, existing models of spreading typically focus on cells in unconfined settings—despite the fact that many bacteria inhabit complex and crowded environments, such as soils, sediments, and biological tissues/gels, in which solid obstacles confine the cells and thereby strongly regulate population spreading. Here, we develop an extended version of the classic Keller-Segel model of bacterial spreading via motility that also incorporates cellular growth and division, and explicitly considers the influence of confinement in promoting both cell-solid and cell-cell collisions. Numerical simulations of this extended model demonstrate how confinement fundamentally alters the dynamics and morphology of spreading bacterial populations, in good agreement with recent experimental results. In particular, with increasing confinement, we find that cell-cell collisions increasingly hinder the initial formation and the long-time propagation speed of chemotactic pulses. Moreover, also with increasing confinement, we find that cellular growth and division plays an increasingly dominant role in driving population spreading—eventually leading to a transition from chemotactic spreading to growth-driven spreading via a slower, jammed front. This work thus provides a theoretical foundation for further investigations of the influence of confinement on bacterial spreading. More broadly, thesemore »results help to provide a framework to predict and control the dynamics of bacterial populations in complex and crowded environments.« less
  8. Bacteria are ubiquitous in our daily lives, either as motile planktonic cells or as immobilized surface-attached biofilms. These different phenotypic states play key roles in agriculture, environment, industry, and medicine; hence, it is critically important to be able to predict the conditions under which bacteria transition from one state to the other. Unfortunately, these transitions depend on a dizzyingly complex array of factors that are determined by the intrinsic properties of the individual cells as well as those of their surrounding environments, and are thus challenging to describe. To address this issue, here, we develop a generally-applicable biophysical model of the interplay between motility-mediated dispersal and biofilm formation under positive quorum sensing control. Using this model, we establish a universal rule predicting how the onset and extent of biofilm formation depend collectively on cell concentration and motility, nutrient diffusion and consumption, chemotactic sensing, and autoinducer production. Our work thus provides a key step toward quantitatively predicting and controlling biofilm formation in diverse and complex settings.