Probing bacterial interactions: Integrated approaches combining atomic force microscopy, electron microscopy and biophysical techniques

Job Ubbink, Prisca Schär-Zammaretti

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Recent developments in the application of Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) and other biophysical techniques for the study of bacterial interactions and adhesion are discussed in the light of established biological and microscopic approaches. Whereas molecular-biological techniques combined with electron microscopy allow the identification and localization of surface constituents mediating bacterial interactions, with AFM it has become possible to actually measure the forces involved in bacterial interactions. Combined with the flexibility of AFM in probing various types of physical interactions, such as electrostatic interactions, specific ligand-receptor interactions and the elastic forces of deformation and extension of bacterial surface polymers and cell wall, this provides prospects for the elucidation of the biophysical mechanism of bacterial interaction. However, because of the biochemical and a biophysical complexity of the bacterial cell wall, integrated approaches combining AFM with electron microscopy and biophysical techniques are needed to elucidate the mechanism by which a bacterium interacts with a host or material surface. The literature on electron microscopy of the bacterial cell wall is reviewed, with particular emphasis on the staining of specific classes of cell-wall constituents. The application of AFM in the analysis of bacterial surfaces is discussed, including AFM operating modes, sample preparation methods and results obtained on various strains. For various bacterial strains, the integration of EM and AFM data is discussed. Various biophysical aspects of the analysis of bacterial surface structure and interactions are discussed, including the theory of colloidal interactions and Bell's theory of cell-to-cell adhesion. An overview is given of biophysical techniques used in the analysis of the properties of bacterial surfaces and bacterial surface constituents and their integration with AFM. Finally, we discuss recent progress in the understanding of the role of bacterial interactions in medicine within the framework of the techniques and concepts discussed in the paper.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)293-320
Number of pages28
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Adhesin
  • Bacterial surface
  • Cell wall
  • Exopolysaccharides
  • Pili
  • S-layer

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Probing bacterial interactions: Integrated approaches combining atomic force microscopy, electron microscopy and biophysical techniques'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this