Micro-patterned surfaces that exploit stigmergy to inhibit biofilm expansion

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Frontiers in Microbiology, 2017, 7 (JAN)
Issue Date:
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© 2017 Gloag, Elbadawi, Zachreson, Aharonovich, Toth, Charles, Turnbull and Whitchurch. Twitching motility is a mode of surface translocation that is mediated by the extension and retraction of type IV pili and which, depending on the conditions, enables migration of individual cells or can manifest as a complex multicellular collective behavior that leads to biofilm expansion. When twitching motility occurs at the interface of an abiotic surface and solidified nutrient media, it can lead to the emergence of extensive self-organized patterns of interconnected trails that form as a consequence of the actively migrating bacteria forging a furrow network in the substratum beneath the expanding biofilm. These furrows appear to direct bacterial movements much in the same way that roads and footpaths coordinate motor vehicle and human pedestrian traffic. Self-organizing systems such as these can be accounted for by the concept of stigmergy which describes self-organization that emerges through indirect communication via persistent signals within the environment. Many bacterial communities are able to actively migrate across solid and semi-solid surfaces through complex multicellular collective behaviors such as twitching motility and flagella-mediated swarming motility. Here, we have examined the potential of exploiting the stigmergic behavior of furrow-mediated trail following as a means of controlling bacterial biofilm expansion along abiotic surfaces. We found that incorporation of a series of parallel micro-fabricated furrows significantly impeded active biofilm expansion by Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Proteus vulgaris. We observed that in both cases bacterial movements tended to be directed along the furrows. We also observed that narrow furrows were most effective at disrupting biofilm expansion as they impeded the ability of cells to self-organize into multicellular assemblies required for escape from the furrows and migration into new territory. Our results suggest that the implementation of micro-fabricated furrows that exploit stigmergy may be a novel approach to impeding active biofilm expansion across abiotic surfaces such as those used in medical and industrial settings.
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