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Probing nanomotion of single bacteria with graphene drums


Motion is a key characteristic of every form of life1. Even at the microscale, it has been reported that colonies of bacteria can generate nanomotion on mechanical cantilevers2, but the origin of these nanoscale vibrations has remained unresolved3,4. Here, we present a new technique using drums made of ultrathin bilayer graphene, where the nanomotion of single bacteria can be measured in its aqueous growth environment. A single Escherichia coli cell is found to generate random oscillations with amplitudes of up to 60 nm, exerting forces of up to 6 nN to its environment. Using mutant strains that differ by single gene deletions that affect motility, we are able to pinpoint the bacterial flagella as the main source of nanomotion. By real-time tracing of changes in nanomotion on administering antibiotics, we demonstrate that graphene drums can perform antibiotic susceptibility testing with single-cell sensitivity. These findings deepen our understanding of processes underlying cellular dynamics, and pave the way towards high-throughput and parallelized rapid screening of the effectiveness of antibiotics in bacterial infections with graphene devices.

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Fig. 1: Detection of nanomotion of single bacteria by graphene drums.
Fig. 2: Motion of a single bacterium.
Fig. 3: Impact of flagellar motility on nanomotion.
Fig. 4: Single-cell antibiotic sensitivity screening using graphene.

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Data availability

The raw datasets of this study are available from the corresponding author on request.


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Financial support was provided from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under ERC starting grant ENIGMA (no. 802093, F.A. and I.E.R.), ERC PoC GRAPHFITI (no. 966720, F.A. and A.J.), Graphene Flagship (grant nos. 785219 and 881603, P.S.) and the ERC Advanced Grant LoopingDNA (no. 883684, C.D.), as well as the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO/OCW), as part of the NanoFront and BaSyC programmes and by the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant no. P300P2_177768, A.J.). We acknowledge Graphenea for providing and transferring the bilayer graphene used in this research. We thank M. Tišma for help in the wetlab, B. Beaumont and A. Derumigny for discussions, and T. de Visser, S. Mohammad, N. Wansink and S. van Putten for their contributions to the nanomotion detection setup. Schematics in Figs. 3a and 4a were created with

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



A.J. and F.A. conceived the idea. I.E.R. and A.J. collected the data. I.E.R. constructed the setup and performed the interferometry experiments. A.J. performed the bacterial manipulation. All authors designed the experiments. The project was supervised by C.D., P.G.S. and F.A. All authors contributed to the data analysis, interpretation of the results and writing of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Farbod Alijani.

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Competing interests

The authors have a patent on the techniques described in the paper (patent no. WO/2021/112666).

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Peer review information

Nature Nanotechnology thanks the anonymous reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Reflectivity of the Fabry-Pérot cavity formed by suspended graphene.

a, Reflectivity as a function of number of graphene layers and cavity depth. Values for bilayer graphene are indicated by a red line. b, The reflectivity change is normalized with respect to the natural position of the graphene drum. By determining the slope around this point, a sensitivity φ = −0.0038 nm−1 is found.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Notes 1–6, Figs. 1–12 and Table 1.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Data 1

Statistical source data.

Supplementary Video 1

Animation of the technique. The sound of a drum before and after administering an antibiotic is synced with the animation.

Supplementary Audio 1

Sound of a live bacterium.

Supplementary Audio 2

Sound of an empty drum.

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Rosłoń, I.E., Japaridze, A., Steeneken, P.G. et al. Probing nanomotion of single bacteria with graphene drums. Nat. Nanotechnol. 17, 637–642 (2022).

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