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  1. Abstract

    The ability of bacteria to colonize and grow on different surfaces is an essential process for biofilm development. Here, we report the use of synthetic hydrogels with tunable stiffness and porosity to assess physical effects of the substrate on biofilm development. Using time-lapse microscopy to track the growth of expanding Serratia marcescens colonies, we find that biofilm colony growth can increase with increasing substrate stiffness, unlike what is found on traditional agar substrates. Using traction force microscopy-based techniques, we find that biofilms exert transient stresses correlated over length scales much larger than a single bacterium, and that the magnitude of these forces also increases with increasing substrate stiffness. Our results are consistent with a model of biofilm development in which the interplay between osmotic pressure arising from the biofilm and the poroelastic response of the underlying substrate controls biofilm growth and morphology.

  2. Living systems are composed of molecules that are synthesized by cells that use energy sources within their surroundings to create fascinating materials that have mechanical properties optimized for their biological function. Their functionality is a ubiquitous aspect of our lives. We use wood to construct furniture, bacterial colonies to modify the texture of dairy products and other foods, intestines as violin strings, bladders in bagpipes, and so on. The mechanical properties of these biological materials differ from those of other simpler synthetic elastomers, glasses, and crystals. Reproducing their mechanical properties synthetically or from first principles is still often unattainable. The challenge is that biomaterials often exist far from equilibrium, either in a kinetically arrested state or in an energy consuming active state that is not yet possible to reproduce de novo. Also, the design principles that form biological materials often result in nonlinear responses of stress to strain, or force to displacement, and theoretical models to explain these nonlinear effects are in relatively early stages of development compared to the predictive models for rubberlike elastomers or metals. In this Review, we summarize some of the most common and striking mechanical features of biological materials and make comparisons among animal, plant,more »fungal, and bacterial systems. We also summarize some of the mechanisms by which living systems develop forces that shape biological matter and examine newly discovered mechanisms by which cells sense and respond to the forces they generate themselves, which are resisted by their environment, or that are exerted upon them by their environment. Within this framework, we discuss examples of how physical methods are being applied to cell biology and bioengineering.

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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 28, 2023