Enjoying the sunshine at a festival, when the heavens suddenly open – the collective impulse might be to take cover. So too it seems for large populations of bacteria. They often form a biofilm – a sticky matrix that holds them together on whatever they’re growing. Gathering like this helps protect them from environmental threats. And now researchers working with Bacillus subtillis bacteria have discovered that they can further shield themselves by producing a ‘raincoat’ around the biofilm. This unusual method of protection is spontaneously assembled from protein, called BslA, secreted by the bacterial cells sheltering beneath. Dropping a bead of water containing BslA into oil, demonstrates how the protein self-assembles to form an elastic skin (pictured). As B. subtillis is being considered for use as a bio-fertiliser, its protective instinct could safeguard crops. It could also help researchers better understand how biofilms within the human body become antibiotic resistant.
Written by Faiza Peeran
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