Intra-colony channels in E. coli function as a nutrient uptake system

Rooney, Liam M. and Amos, William B. and Hoskisson, Paul A. and McConnell, Gail (2020) Intra-colony channels in E. coli function as a nutrient uptake system. ISME Journal, 14 (10). pp. 2461-2473. ISSN 1751-7362 (

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The ability of microorganisms to grow as aggregated assemblages has been known for many years, however their structure has remained largely unexplored across multiple spatial scales. The development of the Mesolens, an optical system which uniquely allows simultaneous imaging of individual bacteria over a 36 mm2 field of view, has enabled the study of mature Escherichia coli macro-colony biofilm architecture like never before. The Mesolens enabled the discovery of intra-colony channels on the order of 10 μm in diameter, that are integral to E. coli macro-colony biofilms and form as an emergent property of biofilm growth. These channels have a characteristic structure and re-form after total mechanical disaggregation of the colony. We demonstrate that the channels are able to transport particles and play a role in the acquisition of and distribution of nutrients through the biofilm. These channels potentially offer a new route for the delivery of dispersal agents for antimicrobial drugs to biofilms, ultimately lowering their impact on public health and industry.