Researchers have been using neutrons to explore the complex outer surfaces of Escherichia coli, and they have revealed in the process, with great precision and detail, how such bacteria interact with their surroundings. Understanding these interactions is crucial, as E. coli infections can lead to fatal sepsis if untreated.
This research was conducted in a collaboration between the Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL) and the Max Plank Institute of Colloids and Interfaces. It focused on lipopolysaccharides (LPS), the carbohydrates found on the surface of E. coli. LPS molecules are responsible for a wide range of infections; they cover roughly 75% of the surface area of all Gram-negative bacteria and play a key role in how the bacteria affect the human immune system.
Using neutron reflectometry, the team analysed the structure of the outer surface of the LPS and tested its response to various conditions, including the absence of positively charged calcium ions, which influences the structure of bacteria, making them vulnerable to antimicrobial compounds.
The scientists were able to examine the biological surfaces in a realistic environment and draw more accurate conclusions about the intricate mechanisms at play. This understanding of the interactions taking place on the surface in various conditions will help researchers establish novel approaches in the development of antimicrobial agents.