Mechanical instability and interfacial energy drive biofilm morphogenesis

Jing Yan, Chenyi Fei, Sheng Mao, Alexis Moreau, Ned S. Wingreen, Andrej Kosmrlj, Howard A. Stone, Bonnie Lynn Bassler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Surface-attached bacterial communities called biofilms display a diversity of morphologies. Although structural and regulatory components required for biofilm formation are known, it is not understood how these essential constituents promote biofilm surface morphology. Here, using Vibrio cholerae as our model system, we combine mechanical measurements, theory and simulation, quantitative image analyses, surface energy characterizations, and mutagenesis to show that mechanical instabilities, including wrinkling and delamination, underlie the morphogenesis program of growing biofilms. We also identify interfacial energy as a key driving force for mechanomorphogenesis because it dictates the generation of new and the annihilation of existing interfaces. Finally, we discover feedback between mechanomorphogenesis and biofilm expansion, which shapes the overall biofilm contour. The morphogenesis principles that we discover in bacterial biofilms, which rely on mechanical instabilities and interfacial energies, should be generally applicable to morphogenesis processes in tissues in higher organisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere43920
StatePublished - Mar 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Neuroscience


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