Localized cell death focuses mechanical forces during 3D patterning in a biofilm

Munehiro Asally, Mark Kittisopikul, Pau Rué, Yingjie Du, Zhenxing Hu, Tolga Çaǧatay, Andra B. Robinson, Hongbing Lu, Jordi Garcia-Ojalvo, Gürol M. Süel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

235 Scopus citations


From microbial biofilm communities to multicellular organisms, 3D macroscopic structures develop through poorly understood interplay between cellular processes and mechanical forces. Investigating wrinkled biofilms of Bacillus subtilis, we discovered a pattern of localized cell death that spatially focuses mechanical forces, and thereby initiates wrinkle formation. Deletion of genes implicated in biofilm development, together with mathematical modeling, revealed that ECM production underlies the localization of cell death. Simultaneously with cell death, we quantitatively measured mechanical stiffness and movement in WT and mutant biofilms. Results suggest that localized cell death provides an outlet for lateral compressive forces, thereby promoting vertical mechanical buckling, which subsequently leads to wrinkle formation. Guided by these findings, we were able to generate artificial wrinkle patterns within biofilms. Formation of 3D structures facilitated by cell death may underlie self-organization in other developmental systems, and could enable engineering of macroscopic structures from cell populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18891-18896
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number46
StatePublished - Nov 13 2012


  • Pattern formation
  • Self-assembly
  • Systems dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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