PerspectiveMicrobiology

A bacterial coat that is not pure cotton

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Science  19 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6373, pp. 276-277
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar5253

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Summary

Cellulose, a linear polymer of glucose residues, is the main component of plant cell walls and the most abundant biomolecule on the planet. Cellulose fibers from wood, cotton, and linen are mostly used as such, but can also be chemically modified to make rayon, viscose, and other textiles. Many bacteria also synthesize cellulose. Cellulose fibers produced by the model organism Komagataeibacter (Gluconacetobacter) xylinus are very similar to those found in plants (1) and are increasingly used in biotechnology and nanotechnology (2, 3). Escherichia coli and many other bacteria produce cellulose as a key component of the extracellular matrix that coats the cells to form a biofilm, a complex multicellular community consisting of numerous bacteria, exopolysaccharides (like cellulose), protein fibers, and DNA (46). The cellulose in biofilms was assumed to be the same as that produced by G. xylinus, owing to the same pattern of staining with Congo red dye and the same cellulose synthase enzyme (46). However, on page 334 of this issue, Thongsomboon et al. (7) report that E. coli and Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium produce modified cellulose, in which every other glucosyl residue carries an additional phosphoethanolamine (pEtN) group. These findings have important implications for a wide variety of disciplines, from microbiology to materials science.