A key step in the development of bacterial biofilms — complex structures resistant to many common antibiotics — is adhesion to the substrate. This process has important implications for the implantation of medical devices, but the genotypic differences between attached and planktonic cells remains unclear. In February 5 online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Karen Otto and Thomas Silhavy from Princeton University, USA describe the genetic mechanism used by Escherichia coli to sense a solid surface, setting in motion the process that leads to biofilm formation.

Otto & Silhavy examined the role of the Cpx-signaling pathway in sensing and responding to the physical changes that occur during adhesion of E. coli to surfaces. They found that the expression of Cpx-regulated genes is induced during initial adhesion of E. coli to abiotic surfaces and the Cpx response requires NlpE, an outer membrane lipoprotein. In addition they found...

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