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Bacteria organise into channels to spread the colony

26 October 2022

Bact Channels

Bacteria grow in sprawling communities – as individual cells divide, so the overall colony grows. The plucky prokaryotes share chemicals with their neighbours, often feeding growth into stubborn biofilms that are difficult to disrupt. Here researchers find another clue to survival in the colony – canals. Pictured under a microscope, this colony of Pseudomonas aeruginosa develops channels (blue) sloshing fluids along each exploratory arm of the colony as it sprawls out. Researchers find that biosurfactant chemicals made by the bacteria help to lower surface tension in the channels, allowing them to send chemical packages called vesicles, or even to travel themselves, like barges on a canal (but 100 million times smaller). The team saw this long-range transport – a form of the Marangoni effect – even in bacteria without hair-like flagella often used to waft chemicals around. Further studies may allow researchers to develop new compounds to break disease-causing colonies apart.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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