An in vivo study of electrical charge distribution on the bacterial cell wall by atomic force microscopy in vibrating force mode†
We report an in vivo electromechanical atomic force microscopy (AFM) study of charge distribution on the cell wall of Gram+ Rhodococcus wratislaviensis bacteria, naturally adherent to a glass substrate, under physiological conditions. The method presented in this paper relies on a detailed study of AFM approach/retract curves giving the variation of the interaction force versus distance between the tip and the sample. In addition to classical height and mechanical (as stiffness) data, mapping of local electrical properties, such as bacterial surface charge, was proved to be feasible at a spatial resolution better than a few tens of nanometers. This innovative method relies on the measurement of the cantilever's surface stress through its deflection far from (>10 nm) the repulsive contact zone: the variations of surface stress come from the modification of electrical surface charge of the cantilever (as in classical electrocapillary measurements) likely stemming from its charging during contact of both the tip and the sample electrical double layers. This method offers an important improvement in local electrical and electrochemical measurements at the solid/liquid interface, particularly in high-molarity electrolytes when compared to techniques focused on the direct use of electrostatic force. It thus opens a new way to directly investigate in situ biological electrical surface processes involved in numerous practical applications and fundamental problems such as bacterial adhesion, biofilm formation, microbial fuel cells, etc.