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Ultramicroscopy. 2010 Sep;110(10):1290-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ultramic.2010.06.004. Epub 2010 Jun 8.

High resolution imaging of surface patterns of single bacterial cells.

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Experimental Biophysics and Applied Nanoscience, Bielefeld University, Universit├Ątsstrabetae 25, 33615 Bielefeld, Germany.


We systematically studied the origin of surface patterns observed on single Sinorhizobium meliloti bacterial cells by comparing the complementary techniques atomic force microscopy (AFM) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Conditions ranged from living bacteria in liquid to fixed bacteria in high vacuum. Stepwise, we applied different sample modifications (fixation, drying, metal coating, etc.) and characterized the observed surface patterns. A detailed analysis revealed that the surface structure with wrinkled protrusions in SEM images were not generated de novo but most likely evolved from similar and naturally present structures on the surface of living bacteria. The influence of osmotic stress to the surface structure of living cells was evaluated and also the contribution of exopolysaccharide and lipopolysaccharide (LPS) by imaging two mutant strains of the bacterium under native conditions. AFM images of living bacteria in culture medium exhibited surface structures of the size of single proteins emphasizing the usefulness of AFM for high resolution cell imaging.

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