Mechanical constraints to unbound expansion of B. subtilis on semi-solid surfaces

Mojca Krajnc, Chenyi Fei, Andrej Košmrlj, Mitjan Kalin, David Stopar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The effectsof surface mechanical constraints that may promote or prevent bacterial expansion on semi-solid surfaces are largely unknown. In this work, we have manufactured agar surfaces with differentviscoelasticity, topography, and roughness. To capture the essential biophysics of the bacterial expansion we have developed a continuum model that faithfully reproduces the main patterns of the short-range and long-range expansion with two critical parameters: local interfacial forces and colony viscosity. Cohesive energy of the bacterial colony that determines the extent of exploration was dependent on agar surface viscoelasticity. On soft surfaces, bacteria produce low viscoelastic colonies that allow guided population of bacteria to traverse distances that are six orders of magnitude larger than the size of the individual bacterium. Bacteria growing on stiffsurfaces produce colonies with significantlyincreased viscoelasticity that prevent bacterial exploration of new territory and allow formation of a very steep cliffat the edge of the colony. Upon floodingof the rough surfaces, we have induced aquaplaning and spreading of bacteria. A layer of water between the bacterium and surface results in a loss of traction allowing bacteria to spread across the otherwise inhibitory rough surface. The results shed new light on the bacterial ability to rapidly colonize new territories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMicrobiology spectrum
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Genetics
  • Physiology
  • Cell Biology
  • Ecology


  • B. subtilis
  • expansion
  • mathematical modeling
  • roughness
  • surface topography
  • viscoelasticity


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