Bacillus subtilis Bacteria Generate an Internal Mechanical Force within a Biofilm

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A key issue in understanding why biofilms are the most prevalent mode of bacterial life is the origin of the degree of resistance and protection that bacteria gain from self-organizing into biofilm communities. Our experiments suggest that their mechanical properties are a key factor. Experiments on pellicles, or floating biofilms, of Bacillus subtilis showed that while they are multiplying and secreting extracellular substances, bacteria create an internal force (associated with a -80 ± 25 Pa stress) within the biofilms, similar to the forces that self-equilibrate and strengthen plants, organs, and some engineered buildings. Here, we found that this force, or stress, is associated with growth-induced pressure. Our observations indicate that due to such forces, biofilms spread after any cut or ablation by up to 15-20% of their initial size. The force relaxes over very short timescales (tens of milliseconds). We conclude that this force helps bacteria to shape the biofilm, improve its mechanical resistance, and facilitate its invasion and self-repair.




Douarche, C., Allain, J. M., & Raspaud, E. (2015). Bacillus subtilis Bacteria Generate an Internal Mechanical Force within a Biofilm. Biophysical Journal, 109(10), 2195–2202.

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