Bacterial surface spreading is more efficient on nematically aligned polysaccharide substrates

David J. Lemon, Derek A. Schutzman, Anthony G. Garza

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Biofilm-forming bacteria typically deposit layers of polysaccharides on the surfaces they inhabit; hence, polysaccharides are their immediate environment on such surfaces. Previously, we showed that many biofilm-forming bacteria preferentially spread in the direction of aligned and densely packed polysaccharide fibers in compressed substrates, a behavior we referred to as polymertropism. This arrangement of polysaccharide fibers is likely to be similar to that found in the "slime" trails deposited by many biofilm-forming bacteria and would explain previous observations that bacteria tend to follow these trails of polysaccharides. Here, we show that groups of cells or flares spread more rapidly on substrates containing aligned and densely packed polysaccharide fibers. Flares also persist longer, tend to hold their trajectories parallel to the long axes of polysaccharide fibers longer, and ultimately show an increase in displacement away from their origin. On the basis of these findings and others, we propose a model for polymertropism. Namely, we suggest that the packing of the aligned polymers increases the efficiency of surface spreading in the direction of the polymer's long axes; therefore, bacteria tend to spread more rapidly in this direction. Additional work suggests that bacteria can leverage polymertropism, and presumably more efficient surface spreading, for a survival advantage. In particular, when two bacterial species were placed in close proximity and in competition with each other, the ability of one species to move rapidly and directly away from the other by utilizing the aligned polymers of compressed agar substrates led to a clear survival benefit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00610-17
JournalJournal of bacteriology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018


  • Biofilms
  • Elasticotaxis
  • Polymertropism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology


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