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Bacterial Macrofibers and Bionites: Materials of Natural and Synthetic Design

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 February 2011

Neil H. Mendelson
Affiliation:
University of Arizona, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Life Sciences South Building, Tucson, AZ 85721
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Abstract

Two fiber forms can be obtained from cells of the rod-shaped bacterium, Bacillus subtilis, one called macrofibers, the other bacterial thread. Macrofibers are highly organized, multicellular structures, millimeters in length that selfassemble in a unique way. Each fiber is essentially a single chain of cells linked end-to-end that has repeatedly folded upon itself and twisted into helical form. The growth of individual cells yields both the material of the macrofiber and the forces required for its assembly. The forces involved stem from twisting motions caused by cell growth geometry. The folding process is akin to negative supercoiling. New approaches have been used to estimate the magnitude of forces. Torque generated by single filaments has been estimated from snapopening motions resulting from aborted attempts at folding to be in the range of 10−10 to 10−8 dyne-cm. In contrast, multifilament fibers carrying small wires in their loops must have generated a torque of at least 10−5 dyne-cm and a supercoiling force of at least 10−5 dyne in order to have moved the wires in viscous solutions at the rates observed. The second bacterial fiber form, bacterial thread, and its mineralized derivatives, called bionites, are man-made materials. They are produced by the drawing and drying of bacterial cell filaments from cultures grown in the form of a textile-like web. The material properties of bacterial thread reflect primarily those of the strength-bearing cell wall polymer, peptidoglycan. A variety of new fiber-like materials have been produced by mineralizing the cell walls in situ in web cultures and drawing the products. Iron, copper, calcium, and potassium phosphate-containing bionites have been obtained in this manner. We are currently searching for order in the bionite crystal forms that may reflect the electrostatic nature of the wall polymer structural templates.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Materials Research Society 1994

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