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Attachment of bacteria onto a surface, consequent signaling, and accumulation and growth of the surface-bound bacterial population are key initial steps in the formation of pathogenic biofilms. While recent reports have hinted that surface mechanics may affect the accumulation of bacteria on that surface, the processes that underlie bacterial perception of surface mechanics and modulation of accumulation in response to surface mechanics remain largely unknown. We use thin and thick hydrogels coated on glass to create composite materials with different mechanics (higher elasticity for thin composites; lower elasticity for thick composites) but with the same surface adhesivity and chemistry. The mechanical cue stemming from surface mechanics is elucidated using experiments with the opportunistic human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa combined with finite-element modeling. Adhesion to thin composites results in greater changes in mechanical stress and strain in the bacterial envelope than does adhesion to thick composites with identical surface chemistry. Using quantitative microscopy, we find that adhesion to thin composites also results in higher cyclic-di-GMP levels, which in turn result in lower motility and less detachment, and thus greater accumulation of bacteria on the surface than does adhesion to thick composites. Mechanics-dependent c-di-GMP production is mediated by the cell-surface-exposed protein PilY1. The biofilm lag phase, which is longer for bacterial populations on thin composites than on thick composites, is also mediated by PilY1. This study shows clear evidence that bacteria actively regulate differential accumulation on surfaces of different stiffnesses via perceiving varied mechanical stress and strain upon surface engagement.


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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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npj Biofilms Microbiomes





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