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The Art in Science

Product Image Filmy Helices

Filmy Helices

Chloe Luyet, Graduate Student (Violi Laboratory), Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan College of Engineering

It is estimated that nearly 70% of human bacterial infections involve the formation of biofilms, slimy films composed of proteins, polysaccharides and DNA, in which bacteria are embedded. Importantly, bacteria that are embedded in biofilms are several thousand times more resistant to antibiotics than free bacteria. In hospitals, the majority of biofilm-associated infections acquired by patients can be attributed to one bacterial species: Staphylococcus aureus. Structural analysis of the matrix of S. aureus biofilms has revealed alpha-helical peptides that can aggregate into a fibrous structure that supports the structural integrity of the biofilm and makes it more resistant to antibiotic treatment. This image, formed using molecular simulations, shows a possible intermediate stage in the fiber’s maturation process. Understanding the components that contribute to fiber formation and strength could lead to novel therapeutic strategies to disrupt these biofilms and improve the management of hospital-acquired infections.