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Look at them grow: Meniscus channels spur bacteria, biofilm growth

Simple stamping technique patterns bacteria and accelerates their growth

by Matt Davenport
July 13, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 27


Bacteria grow along a snowflake pattern in agar.
Credit: ACS Synth. Biol.
A biofilm of B. subtilis grows along meniscus channels shaped like a snowflake. The pattern was created using a silicone stamp.

Little ones grow so fast. Still, researchers at the University of Warwick were surprised by just how quickly their bacteria blossomed when growing along a microscopic meniscus. Microstructures can guide bacterial growth, shepherding colonies into complex patterns. Until now, patterning biofilm growth required emerging or expensive equipment, such as specialized ink-jet or 3-D printers, says University of Warwick biologist Munehiro Asally and physicist Vasily Kantsler. Asally and Kantsler’s team turned to readily available and customizable silicone stamps to transfer microscopic patterns into agar gel. After the stamp is released, liquid seeps out of the gel and forms a narrow meniscus between the newly raised features and the flat agar. These channels, the team found, act like highways for microbial growth, with bacteria speeding up to twice the growth rate they attain on flat agar (ACS Synth. Biol. 2020, DOI: 10.1021/acssynbio.0c00146). The simple patterning method could help researchers develop biofilms, those notoriously resilient goos made by microbes, for applications in materials science. And since it speeds bacterial growth, this technique could help accelerate research into a number of microbial questions, such as how antibacterial resistance evolves, the team says.


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