Effect of extracellular polymeric substances on the mechanical properties of Rhodococcus

Pen, Yu and Zhang, Zhenyu J. and Morales-García, Ana L. and Mears, Matthew and Tarmey, Drew S. and Edyvean, Robert G. and Banwart, Steven A. and Geoghegan, Mark (2015) Effect of extracellular polymeric substances on the mechanical properties of Rhodococcus. BBA - Biomembranes, 1848 (2). 518–526. ISSN 0005-2736 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbamem.2014.11.007)

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The mechanical properties of Rhodococcus RC291 were measured using force spectroscopy equipped with a bacterial cell probe. Rhodococcal cells in the late growth stage of development were found to have greater adhesion to a silicon oxide surface than those in the early growth stage. This is because there are more extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) that contain nonspecific binding sites available on the cells of late growth stage. It is found that EPS in the late exponential phase are less densely bound but consist of chains able to extend further into their local environment, whilst the denser EPS at the late stationary phase act more to sheath the cell. Contraction and extension of the EPS could change the density of the binding sites, and therefore affect the magnitude of the adhesion force between the EPS and the silicon oxide surface. By treating rhodococcal EPS as a surface-grafted polyelectrolyte layer and using scaling theory, the interaction between EPS and a solid substrate was modelled for the cell approaching the surface which revealed that EPS possess a large capacity to store charge. Changing the pH of the surrounding medium acts to change the conformation of EPS chains.