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A growing bacterial colony in two dimensions as an active nematic

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Original languageEnglish
Article number4190
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2018


How a single bacterium becomes a colony of many thousand cells is important in biomedicine and food safety. Much is known about the molecular and genetic bases of this process, but less about the underlying physical mechanisms. Here we study the growth of single-layer micro-colonies of rod-shaped Escherichia coli bacteria confined to just under the surface of soft agarose by a glass slide. Analysing this system as a liquid crystal, we find that growth-induced activity fragments the colony into microdomains of well-defined size, whilst the associated flow orients it tangentially at the boundary. Topological defect pairs with charges [Formula: see text] are produced at a constant rate, with the [Formula: see text] defects being propelled to the periphery. Theoretical modelling suggests that these phenomena have different physical origins from similar observations in other extensile active nematics, and a growing bacterial colony belongs to a new universality class, with features reminiscent of the expanding universe.

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