Floating and Tether-Coupled Adhesion of Bacteria to Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Surfaces

Rebecca van der Westen, Jelmer Sjollema, Robert Molenaar, Prashant K. Sharma, Henny C. van der Mei, Henk J. Busscher* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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Models for bacterial adhesion to substratum surfaces all include uncertainty with respect to the (ir)reversibility of adhesion. In a model, based on vibrations exhibited by adhering bacteria parallel to a surface, adhesion was described as a result of reversible binding of multiple bacterial tethers that detach from and successively reattach to a surface, eventually making bacterial adhesion irreversible. Here, we use total internal reflection microscopy to determine whether adhering bacteria also exhibit variations over time in their perpendicular distance above surfaces. Streptococci with fibrillar surface tethers showed perpendicular vibrations with amplitudes of around 5 nm, regardless of surface hydrophobicity. Adhering, nonfibrillated streptococci vibrated with amplitudes around 20 nm above a hydrophobic surface. Amplitudes did not depend on ionic strength for either strain. Calculations of bacterial energies from their distances above the surfaces using the Boltzman equation showed that bacteria with fibrillar tethers vibrated as a harmonic oscillator. The energy of bacteria without fibrillar tethers varied with distance in a comparable fashion as the DLVO (Derjaguin, Landau, Verwey, and Overbeek)-interaction energy. Distance variations above the surface over time of bacteria with fibrillar tethers are suggested to be governed by the harmonic oscillations, allowed by elasticity of the tethers, piercing through the potential energy barrier. Bacteria without fibrillar tethers "float" above a surface in the secondary energy minimum, with their perpendicular displacement restricted by their thermal energy and the width of the secondary minimum. The distinction between "tether-coupled" and "floating" adhesion is new, and may have implications for bacterial detachment strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4937-4944
Number of pages8
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


  • UT-Hybrid-D

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