In the human world of manufacturing, many companies are now applying an on-demand, just-in-time strategy to conserve resources, reduce costs and promote production of goods precisely when and where they are most needed. A recent study from Indiana University Bloomington scientists reveals that bacteria have evolved a similar just-in-time strategy to constrain production of an extremely sticky cement to exactly the appropriate time and place, avoiding wasteful and problematic production of the material.
Indiana University biologists and two physicists at Brown University with IU connections have shown that certain bacteria wait until the last minute to synthesize the glue that allows them to attach permanently to surfaces. Binding efficiently to surfaces is extremely important to bacteria in the environment and for bacterial disease agents during the infection process.
The researchers found that bacteria -- including the freshwater bacterium Caulobacter crescentus and the agricultural pathogen Agrobacterium tumefaciens -- first connect to a surface with the cellular equivalents of propellers and cables and that this initial, reversible contact stimulates the synthesis of a sticky glue. This holdfast adhesin, which is composed of polysaccharide sugar molecules, is then released only at the site of surface contact to irreversibly attach the bacteria to host surfaces.