Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Building Biofilms

Understanding the mechanics of bacterial biofilm growth

25 March 2019

Building Biofilms

If you could watch a city develop through the ages you'd see small buildings spread and grow, pushing up against the city limits and eventually sprouting skyscrapers. You'd be witnessing the global mechanics of a growing city. Watch bacteria grow and you'll sometimes see them coalesce into sheets called biofilms. Over time these bacterial cities change shape and structure too. Researchers observed these changes in dishes of Vibrio cholerae – the pathogen that causes cholera – using a variety of imaging techniques, including scanning electron microscopy. Quantifying these observations enabled them to deduce what was going on at a mechanical level. The team found global mechanics at play, with biofilms producing wrinkles and blisters (pictured) in response to instabilities in their structure. Biofilms are notoriously harder to destroy than lone bacteria and so new drugs targeting the mechanics of biofilm growth could prove useful in fighting the diseases they cause.

Written by Lux Fatimathas

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