New research at Harvard explains how bacterial biofilms expand to form slimy mats on teeth, pipes, surgical instruments, and crops.
Through experiment and mathematical analysis, researchers have shown that the extracellular matrix (ECM), a mesh of proteins and sugars that can form outside bacterial cells, creates osmotic pressure that forces biofilms to swell and spread.
The ECM mechanism is so powerful that it can increase the radius of some biofilms five-fold within 24 hours.
The results have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
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