How Bacteria Respond to Material Stiffness during Attachment: A Role of Escherichia coli Flagellar Motility

Fangchao Song, Megan E. Brasch, Hao Wang, James H. Henderson, Karin Sauer, Dacheng Ren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Material stiffness has been shown to have potent effects on bacterial attachment and biofilm formation, but the mechanism is still unknown. In this study, response to material stiffness by Escherichia coli during attachment was investigated with biofilm assays and cell tracking using the Automated Contour-base Tracking for in Vitro Environments (ACTIVE) computational algorithm. By comparing the movement of E. coli cells attached on poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) surfaces of different Young's moduli (0.1 and 2.6 MPa, prepared by controlling the degree of cross-linking) using ACTIVE, attached cells on stiff surfaces were found more motile during early stage biofilm formation than those on soft surfaces. To investigate if motility is important to bacterial response to material stiffness, we compared E. coli RP437 and its isogenic mutants of flagellar motor (motB) and synthesis of flagella (fliC) and type I fimbriae (fimA) for attachment on 0.1 and 2.6 MPa PDMS surfaces. The motB mutant exhibited defects in response to PDMS stiffness (based on cell counting and tracking with ACTIVE), which was recovered by complementing the motB gene. Unlike motB results, mutants of fliC and fimA did not show significant defects on both face-up and face-down surfaces. Collectively, these findings suggest that E. coli cells can actively respond to material stiffness during biofilm formation, and motB is involved in this response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22176-22184
Number of pages9
JournalACS Applied Materials and Interfaces
Issue number27
StatePublished - Jul 12 2017


  • attachment
  • bacteria
  • material stiffness
  • mechanosensing
  • motility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science


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