The bacteriophage infection cycle has been extensively studied, yet little is known about the nanostructure and mechanical changes that lead to bacterial lysis. Here, atomic force microscopy was used to study in real time and in situ the impact of the canonical phage T4 on the nanotopography and biomechanics of irreversibly attached, biofilm-forming E. coli cells. The results show that in contrast to the lytic cycle in planktonic cells, which ends explosively, anchored cells that are in the process of forming a biofilm undergo a more gradual lysis, developing distinct nanoscale lesions (~300 nm in diameter) within the cell envelope. Furthermore, it is shown that the envelope rigidity and cell elasticity decrease (>50% and >40%, respectively) following T4 infection, a process likely linked to changes in the nanostructure of infected cells. These insights show that the well-established lytic pathway of planktonic cells may be significantly different from that of biofilm-forming cells. Elucidating the lysis paradigm of these cells may advance biofilm removal and phage therapeutics.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology