ZiMT Journal Club July 2021: Prof. Vasily Zaburdaev / How physics helps to understand biofilms

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Prof. Dr. Vasily Zaburdaev, Chair of Mathematics in Life Sciences, FAU

The lives of humans and bacteria are inseparable. Bacteria predominantly grow as biofilms, which are complex communities of cells forming on almost any kind of surface. For better, biofilms protect plant roots and give taste to cheese. For worse, they cause numerous chronic infections that defy antibiotic therapy and may lead to death. Biofilm development from single cells to a multicellular community is genetically-controlled, but being reminiscent of a living tissue, it is also governed by internal forces and stresses. Many bacterial species use long flexible and retractile filaments called type IV pili to attach to surfaces and other cells. Cycles of growth, attachment, retraction and detachment of the pili generate active force that mediates cell motility and colony formation. In this talk, using Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria as a model example, we will go all the way from describing the motility of individual cells to the viscoelastic material properties of colonies in theory, numerical simulations, and experiments. With our accumulated knowledge we are approaching the point where the physical properties of complex bacterial aggregates could be put into the rigorous theoretical framework and also tested experimentally.