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Langmuir. 2013 Jun 11;29(23):7017-24. doi: 10.1021/la401322k. Epub 2013 May 31.

Role of environmental and antibiotic stress on Staphylococcus epidermidis biofilm microstructure.

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Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, United States.


Cellular clustering and separation of Staphylococcus epidermidis surface adherent biofilms were found to depend significantly on both antibiotic and environmental stress present during growth under steady flow. Image analysis techniques common to colloidal science were applied to image volumes acquired with high-resolution confocal laser scanning microscopy to extract spatial positions of individual bacteria in volumes of size ~30 × 30 × 15 μm(3). The local number density, cluster distribution, and radial distribution function were determined at each condition by analyzing the statistics of the bacterial spatial positions. Environmental stressors of high osmotic pressure (776 mM NaCl) and sublethal antibiotic dose (1.9 μg/mL vancomycin) decreased the average bacterial local number density 10-fold. Device-associated bacterial biofilms are frequently exposed to these environmental and antibiotic stressors while undergoing flow in the bloodstream. Characteristic density phenotypes associated with low, medium, and high local number densities were identified in unstressed S. epidermidis biofilms, while stressed biofilms contained medium- and low-density phenotypes. All biofilms exhibited clustering at length scales commensurate with cell division (~1.0 μm). However, density phenotypes differed in cellular connectivity at the scale of ~6 μm. On this scale, nearly all cells in the high- and medium-density phenotypes were connected into a single cluster with a structure characteristic of a densely packed disordered fluid. However, in the low-density phenotype, the number of clusters was greater, equal to 4% of the total number of cells, and structures were fractal in nature with d(f) =1.7 ± 0.1. The work advances the understanding of biofilm growth, informs the development of predictive models of transport and mechanical properties of biofilms, and provides a method for quantifying the kinetics of bacterial surface colonization as well as biofilm fracture and fragmentation.

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