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Quantifying minute forces: How mechanoregulation determines the behavior of pathogenic bacteria


Bacteria can generate mechanical forces that are important for the colonization of surfaces, formation of biofilms, and infection of host cells. This proposal addresses the fundamental question of how bacteria can control their force generation to robustly respond to chemo-mechanical cues on complex surfaces. Currently, a knowledge gap exists between the molecular regulation pathways on the one hand and the mechanical behavior on the other hand. One major impediment for understanding of how behavior is connected to control is, to date, the impossibility of studying bacterial force directly in unconstrained situations. Based on an initial study, I propose employing new methods for the unperturbed, high-resolution measurement of bacterial traction forces on wide spatiotemporal scales. Thus, the force-generation linking behavior to control can be investigated directly. The objectives are to (A) gain access to nanoscopic mechanical phenomena through the development of cutting-edge super-resolution traction force microscopy, (B) employ the methods to characterize how Pseudomonas aeruginosa controls pilus-generated forces while responding to chemical cues, and (C) establish how surface rigidity affects force generation by P. aeruginosa during biofilm formation. In an interdisciplinary approach, I will combine traction measurements with genetic perturbations, molecule labeling, and computer simulations to produce functional models of the mechanocontrol strategies. Altogether, I will establish a novel technique, opening up the possibility of studying nanoscopic force generation in many types of cells. Through these advances, I will characterize a set of mechanoregulation strategies in P. aeruginosa that are paradigmatic for diverse Gram-negative pathogens employing the same type of pili. Broadly, I expect that the studied bacterial control strategies have a generic, minimal nature and can appear as basic motives throughout development, homeostasis, and disease.

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen
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