Bacterial nanotubes mediate bacterial growth on periodic nano-pillars†
Surface topography designed to achieve spatial segregation has shown promise in delaying bacterial attachment and biofilm growth. However, the underlying mechanisms linking surface topography to the inhibition of microbial attachment and growth still remain unclear. Here, we investigated bacterial attachment, cell alignment and biofilm formation of Pseudomonas aeruginosa on periodic nano-pillar surfaces with different pillar spacing. Using fluorescence and scanning electron microscopy, bacteria were shown to align between the nanopillars. Threadlike structures (“bacterial nanotubes”) protruded from the majority of bacterial cells and appeared to link cells directly with the nanopillars. Using ΔfliM and ΔpilA mutants lacking flagella or pili, respectively, we further demonstrated that cell alignment behavior within nano-pillars is independent of the flagella or pili. The presence of bacteria nanotubes was found in all cases, and is not linked to the expression of flagella or pili. We propose that bacterial nanotubes are produced to aid in cell–surface or cell–cell connections. Nano-pillars with smaller spacing appeared to enhance the extension and elongation of bacterial nanotube networks. Therefore, nano-pillars with narrow spacing can be easily overcome by nanotubes that connect isolated bacterial aggregates. Such nanotube networks may aid cell–cell communication, thereby promoting biofilm development.