Bacterial response to surface topography during biofilm formation was studied using 5 μm tall line patterns of poly (dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS). Escherichia coli cells attached on top of protruding line patterns were found to align more perpendicularly to the orientation of line patterns when the pattern narrowed. Consistently, cell cluster formation per unit area on 5 μm wide line patterns was reduced by 14-fold compared to flat PDMS. Contrasting the reduced colony formation, cells attached on narrow patterns were longer and had higher transcriptional activities, suggesting that such unfavorable topography may present a stress to attached cells. Results of mutant studies indicate that flagellar motility is involved in the observed preference in cell orientation on narrow patterns, which was corroborated by the changes in cell rotation pattern before settling on different surface topographies. These findings led to a set of new design principles for creating antifouling topographies, which was validated using 10 μm tall hexagonal patterns.
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