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Biophys J. 2009 Apr 8;96(7):2935-48. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2008.12.3943.

Absolute quantitation of bacterial biofilm adhesion and viscoelasticity by microbead force spectroscopy.

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  • 1Biophysics Interdepartmental Group, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G2W1, Canada.


Bacterial biofilms are the most prevalent mode of bacterial growth in nature. Adhesive and viscoelastic properties of bacteria play important roles at different stages of biofilm development. Following irreversible attachment of bacterial cells onto a surface, a biofilm can grow in which its matrix viscoelasticity helps to maintain structural integrity, determine stress resistance, and control ease of dispersion. In this study, a novel application of force spectroscopy was developed to characterize the surface adhesion and viscoelasticity of bacterial cells in biofilms. By performing microbead force spectroscopy with a closed-loop atomic force microscope, we accurately quantified these properties over a defined contact area. Using the model gram-negative bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, we observed that the adhesive and viscoelastic properties of an isogenic lipopolysaccharide mutant wapR biofilm were significantly different from those measured for the wild-type strain PAO1 biofilm. Moreover, biofilm maturation in either strain also led to prominent changes in adhesion and viscoelasticity. To minimize variability in force measurements resulting from experimental parameter changes, we developed standardized conditions for microbead force spectroscopy to enable meaningful comparison of data obtained in different experiments. Force plots measured under standard conditions showed that the adhesive pressures of PAO1 and wapR early biofilms were 34 +/- 15 Pa and 332 +/- 47 Pa, respectively, whereas those of PAO1 and wapR mature biofilms were 19 +/- 7 Pa and 80 +/- 22 Pa, respectively. Fitting of creep data to a Voigt Standard Linear Solid viscoelasticity model revealed that the instantaneous and delayed elastic moduli in P. aeruginosa were drastically reduced by lipopolysaccharide deficiency and biofilm maturation, whereas viscosity was decreased only for biofilm maturation. In conclusion, we have introduced a direct biophysical method for simultaneously quantifying adhesion and viscoelasticity in bacterial biofilms under native conditions. This method could prove valuable for elucidating the contribution of genetic backgrounds, growth conditions, and environmental stresses to microbial community physiology.

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