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Extracellular polymeric substances, a key element in understanding biofilm phenotype

Groupe Biofilm et Comportement Microbien aux Interfaces, Laboratoire ERRMECe-EA1391, Université de Cergy-Pontoise, rue Descartes site de Neuville-sur-Oise 95031 Cergy-Pontoise, cedex France

Special Issues: Bacterial adherence: much more than a bond

One of the key elements in the establishment and maintenance of the biofilm structure and properties is the extracellular matrix. The extracellular matrix is composed of water and extracellular polymeric substances (EPS): primarily polysaccharides, proteins and DNA. Characterization of the matrix requires component identification, as well as determination of the relative concentration of EPS constituents, including their physicochemical properties and descriptions of their interactions. Several types of experimental approaches with varying degrees of destructiveness can be utilized for this characterization. The analysis of biofilm by infrared spectroscopy gives information about the chemical content of the matrix and the proportions of different EPS. The sensitivity of a biofilm to hydrolytic enzymes targeting different EPS gives insight into the composition of the matrix and the involvement of matrix components in the integrity of the structure. Using both chemical and physical treatments, extraction and purification of EPS from the biofilm also provides a means of determining matrix composition. Purified and/or artificial EPS can be used to obtain artificial matrices and to study their properties. Using examples from the literature, this review will illustrate selected technologies useful in the study of EPS that provide a better understanding of the structure-function relationships in extracellular matrix, and thus the structure-function relationships of the biofilm phenotype.
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