Jacinta Conrad, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Houston, likens her research into how bacteria move to "tracking bright spots on a dark background."
Using a digital camera affixed to a microscope, Conrad and her collaborators videotape hours of moving bacteria. They then analyze these tens of thousands of images to determine exactly how they cross surfaces before forming biofilms, colonies of potentially dangerous bacteria that can be found in industrial, natural and hospital environments.
Conrad has co-authored an article on the subject that is featured in the new issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), one of the nation's most prestigious scientific journals.
"This marks another step in our effort to fully understand how bacteria move along a surface," said Conrad, who co-authored a related paper that appeared last fall in Science.
Understanding how bacteria move on their way to forming biofilms could lead to discovering ways to hinder or prevent this process.
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"Bacteria use type-IV pili to slingshot on surfaces" (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/07/12/1105073108.abstract?sid=7b837d60-06f2-43e2-9c4b-ab384e4e9495)