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Bacteria form surface-attached communities, known as biofilms, which are central to bacterial biology and how they affect us. Although surface-attached bacteria often experience strong chemical gradients, it remains unclear whether single cells can effectively perform chemotaxis on surfaces. Here we use microfluidic chemical gradients and massively parallel automated tracking to study the behavior of the pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa during early biofilm development. We show that individual cells can efficiently move toward chemoattractants using pili-based "twitching" motility and the Chp chemosensory system. Moreover, we discovered the behavioral mechanism underlying this surface chemotaxis: Cells reverse direction more frequently when moving away from chemoattractant sources. These corrective maneuvers are triggered rapidly, typically before a wayward cell has ventured a fraction of a micron. Our work shows that single bacteria can direct their motion with submicron precision and reveals the hidden potential for chemotaxis within bacterial biofilms.

Original publication

DOI

10.1073/pnas.1600760113

Type

Journal article

Journal

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

Publication Date

07/06/2016

Volume

113

Pages

6532 - 6537

Keywords

Pil-Chp system, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Type IV pili, bacterial chemotaxis, twitching motility, Bacterial Physiological Phenomena, Biofilms, Biological Assay, Chemotaxis, Dimethyl Sulfoxide, Fimbriae, Bacterial, Lab-On-A-Chip Devices, Pseudomonas aeruginosa