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Biomechanics of bacterial walls: studies of bacterial thread made from Bacillus subtilis.

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  • Research Article
  • Engineering


Bacterial threads of up to 1 m in length have been produced from filaments of separation-suppressed mutants of Bacillus subtilis. Individual threads may contain 20,000 cellular filaments in parallel alignment. The tensile properties of bacterial threads have been examined by using conventional textile engineering techniques. The kinetics of elongation at constant load are indicative of a viscoelastic material. Both Young's modulus and breaking stress are highly dependent upon relative humidity. By extrapolation to 100% relative humidity, it appears that cell walls may be able to bear only internal osmotic pressures of about 2 atmospheres (2.03 X 105(5) Pa) in living cells. Similarly, the strength of wall material limits the amount of cell-surface charge permissible to only a small fraction of that known to be carried by the negatively charged wall polymers.

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