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Langmuir. 2015 Feb 17;31(6):2036-42. doi: 10.1021/la5044156. Epub 2015 Feb 2.

Effects of temperature on the morphological, polymeric, and mechanical properties of Staphylococcus epidermidis bacterial biofilms.

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Department of Chemical Engineering and ‡Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Michigan , Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, United States.


Changes in temperature were found to affect the morphology, cell viability, and mechanical properties of Staphylococcus epidermidis bacterial biofilms. S. epidermidis biofilms are commonly associated with hospital-acquired medical device infections. We observed the effect of heat treatment on three physical properties of the biofilms: the bacterial cell morphology and viability, the polymeric properties of the extracellular polymeric substance (EPS), and the rheological properties of the bulk biofilm. After application of a 1 h heat treatment at 45 °C, cell reproduction had ceased, and at 60 °C, cell viability was significantly reduced. Size exclusion chromatography was used to fractionate the extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) based on size. Chemical analysis of each fraction showed that the relative concentrations of the polysaccharide, protein, and DNA components of the EPS were unchanged by the heat treatment at 45 and 60 °C. The results suggest that the EPS molecular constituents are not significantly degraded by the temperature treatment. However, some aggregation on the scale of 100 nm was found by dynamic light scattering at 60 °C. Finally, relative to control biofilms maintained at 37 °C, we observed an order of magnitude reduction in the biofilm yield stress after 60 °C temperature treatment. No such difference was found for treatment at 45 °C. From these results, we conclude that the yield stress of bacterial biofilms is temperature-sensitive and that this sensitivity is correlated with cell viability. The observed significant decrease in yield stress with temperature suggests a means to weaken the mechanical integrity of S. epidermidis biofilms with applications in areas such as the treatment of biofilm-infected medical devices.

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