Bacteria build stronger biofilms with modified cellulose | Science News

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The secret to icky, sticky bacterial biofilms lies in the microbes’ cellulose

A surprising molecular tweak reveals how the fibrous material differs from that found in plants

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2:31pm, January 18, 2018
E. coli colony

TANGLY TENDRILS  This colony of E. coli bacteria gets its wrinkly look thanks to tendrils of cellulose that it uses to build a supertight, sticky web. A new view of microbes’ cellulose shows how it’s different from the kind found in plants.

To build resilient colonies, bacteria make a surprising tweak to a common substance found in cells.

A  biochemical addition to the cellulose produced by E. coli and other species of bacteria lets them create colonies that are resistant to disruption, researchers report in the Jan. 19 Science. Called biofilms, these microbial colonies can form on medical devices or inside the body, leading to hard-to-treat infections that can resist antibiotics. Figuring out how to weaken these films by altering bacteria’s cellulose could lead to new treatments.

Cellulose is the most abundant natural polymer on the planet. It makes celery stringy and plants’ cell walls rigid. The basic structure of the substance is simple: a bunch of copies of the sugar glucose — the exact number can vary — strung together like beads on a string.

While the polymer is best

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