Cellulose networks in biofilms

A biofilm of Escherichia coli bacteria (red) enmeshed in a network (green) made partially of cellulose. Credit: Diego Serra & Regine Hengge

Biochemistry

How bacteria make their fortresses

Insights into bacterial biofilms could help to beat antibiotic resistance.

Researchers have determined the structure of a crucial ingredient in bacterial biofilms, the sticky matrices that help to protect communities of bacteria from antibiotics.

To learn more about how these films function, Lynette Cegelski at Stanford University in California, Regine Hengge at the Humboldt University of Berlin and their colleagues isolated bacterial cellulose — a primary ingredient in the biofilm matrix — and used spectroscopy to probe its structure.

Plants are the best-known producers of celullose, which forms their cell walls. The team discovered that bacterial cellulose has an extra molecular group, called phosphoethanolamine, that plant cellulose does not. The team also identified the genes involved in triggering the assembly of this addition.

These insights will help to illuminate how bacterial biofilms are able to resist antibiotics, the researchers say.