Studying bacterial adhesion and early biofilm development is crucial for understanding the physiology of sessile bacteria and forms the basis for the development of novel antimicrobial biomaterials. Microfluidics technologies can be applied in such studies since they permit dynamic real-time analysis and a more precise control of relevant parameters compared to traditional static and flow chamber assays. In this work, we aimed to establish a microfluidic platform that permits real-time observation of bacterial adhesion and biofilm formation under precisely controlled homogeneous laminar flow conditions.
Using Escherichia coli as the model bacterial strain, a microfluidic platform was developed to overcome several limitations of conventional microfluidics such as the lack of spatial control over bacterial colonization and allow label-free observation of bacterial proliferation at single-cell resolution. This platform was applied to demonstrate the influence of culture media on bacterial colonization and the consequent eradication of sessile bacteria by antibiotic. As expected, the nutrient-poor medium (modified M9 minimal medium) was found to promote bacterial adhesion and to enable a higher adhesion rate compared to the nutrient-rich medium (tryptic soy broth rich medium ). However, in rich medium the adhered cells colonized the glass surface faster than those in poor medium under otherwise identical conditions. For the first time, this effect was demonstrated to be caused by a higher retention of newly generated bacteria in the rich medium, rather than faster growth especially during the initial adhesion phase. These results also indicate that higher adhesion rate does not necessarily lead to faster biofilm formation. Antibiotic treatment of sessile bacteria with colistin was further monitored by fluorescence microscopy at single-cell resolution, allowing in situ analysis of killing efficacy of antimicrobials.
The platform established here represents a powerful and versatile tool for studying environmental effects such as medium composition on bacterial adhesion and biofilm formation. Our microfluidic setup shows great potential for the in vitro assessment of new antimicrobials and antifouling agents under flow conditions.