A new discovery by Indiana University researchers reveals how bacteria sense touch. The information provides new clues into how bacteria form biofilms, which can be harmful to humans and critical infrastructure.
Indiana University biology professor Yves Brun says most bacteria don’t just float around but attach to surfaces and form colonies called biofilms.
“These biofilms have a huge impact on the environment, on human health, on industry and so on,” says Brun.
Biofilms contribute to about two-thirds of all human infections cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars each year in infrastructure issues. Determining how they form could help researchers find ways to control them. Brun led a team that used florescent dyes to observe the bacteria’s microscopic appendages called pili.
“It’s kind of like a fisherman is throwing a line in the water and they’re not seeing where the hook is attached to something but when they reel in the line that will tell them if there is a tension,” says Brun.
After bacteria “sense” a surface they start to produce a glue that helps form biofilm. The team was also able to trick the bacteria by attaching molecules.
“That tells us that just doing this simple thing, preventing the retraction of these structures is one method that the cells use to know they are on the surface,” says Brun.
Brun says more studies are needed to understand how the process works. The research was recently published in the journal Science.