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A novel imaging technique sheds new light on bacterial mobility and adhesion

A scientific endeavour carried out by two French groups belonging to INSERM and CNRS at Aix-Marseilles University shows for the very first time that both bacterium adhesion to and bacterium motion on a surface are driven by the same mechanism (see paper in PNAS: "Wet-surface–enhanced ellipsometric contrast microscopy identifies slime as a major adhesion factor during bacterial surface motility"). Those findings result from collaborative work with Nanolane, a French company that specialises in optical characterisation. Nanolane has devised a new generation of advanced microscope slides specifically for this type of investigation.

Up until now, it was believed that the motion of a bacterium on a surface was caused by projection of a polymeric material referred to as slime that would be produced at the bacterium rear. The Marseilles-based scientists’ work, recently published in America’s famous Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, proves that slime is being generated at spots spread out all along a bacterium’s body as opposed to the rear as seemed to be agreed upon in the scientific literature. The role played by this slime appears to be two-fold: it works as a glue so that a bacterium can stick to a surface, and it facilitates bacterium motion by lubricating the surface-to-bacterium contact.

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