In their natural state, many bacteria form surface-associated communities called biofilms. These communities are heterogeneous in both structure and phenotype and sometimes include other species of bacteria. Cells performing various functions segregate to different regions of the biofilm depending on gradients of nutrients, metabolites, and/or signaling molecules. The spatial organization and diversity of bacteria within these populations play vital roles in determining biofilm function, including resistance to antimicrobial attack and driving metabolic reactions, among others.
To study the relationship between biofilm structure and function, we have developed substrates composed of periodic arrays of nanostructures that induce self-assembly of constituent bacteria into robust and deterministic patterns. Bacteria within these arrays adopt different patterning morphologies depending on the array periodicity and cellular dimensions. Moreover, this spontaneous behavior appears to be general across several species and is associated with an as-yet unidentified contact-mediated interaction between cells and substrates. Ongoing work in our lab strives to identify the biological origin of this self-assembly behavior and study the chemical and physical interactions between bacteria and surfaces.