Communications Physics (Nov 2023)

Collective mechano-response dynamically tunes cell-size distributions in growing bacterial colonies

  • René Wittmann,
  • G. H. Philipp Nguyen,
  • Hartmut Löwen,
  • Fabian J. Schwarzendahl,
  • Anupam Sengupta

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 6, no. 1
pp. 1 – 13


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Abstract Mechanical stresses stemming from environmental factors are a key determinant of cellular behavior and physiology. Yet, the role of self-induced biomechanical stresses in growing bacterial colonies has remained largely unexplored. Here, we demonstrate how collective mechanical forcing plays an important role in the dynamics of the cell size of growing bacteria. We observe that the measured elongation rate of well-nourished Escherichia coli cells decreases over time, depending on the free area around each individual, and associate this behavior with the response of the growing cells to mechanical stresses. Via a cell-resolved model accounting for the feedback of collective forces on individual cell growth, we quantify the effect of this mechano-response on the structure and composition of growing bacterial colonies, including the local environment of each cell. Finally, we predict that a mechano-cross-response between competing bacterial strains with distinct growth rates affects their size distributions.