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Physics Colloquia 293 (2/1/19)

February 1, 2019 - 10:30am

Vernita Gordon, UT Austin


Biofilms are communities of interacting microbes that are embedded in a matrix of  polymers and proteins. Bacteria in biofilms have a greatly-enhanced resistance to  antibiotics and to the immune system, and as a result most chronic infections are in the  form of biofilms. We have shown that years-long biofilm infections in the lungs of patients with Cystic Fibrosis evolve to change their production of matrix polymers in a way that  promotes mechanical toughness. How mechanical toughness might benefit biofilm  infections has not been known. We have developed a new method for assaying how the  viscoelastic mechanics of a target much larger than an immune cell could impact the  immune cell's ability to remove and engulf part of the target. Using freshly-isolated human neutrophils and gels the re-create the range of elasticities that we previouslymeasured for  biofilms, we demonstrate that pieces of soft gel targets are readily removed and engulfed,  but stiff gel targets are entirely resistant to attacks by neutrophils. This gives a new  perspective on the importance of biofilm mechanics and suggests new approaches to  treating biofilms.

Flyer File: gordon_vernita_physics_flyer.pdf