Soft matter

Trapping and assembly of living colloids at water-water interfaces.

PMID 25600991


We study the assembly of inert and living colloids in a two-phase water-water system that provides an environment that can sustain bacteria, providing a new structure with rich potential to confine and structure microbial communities. The water-water system, formed via phase separation of a casein and xanthan mixture, forms a 3-D structure of coexisting casein-rich and xanthan-rich phases. Fluorescent labelling and confocal microscopy reveal the attachment of these living colloids, including Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, at the interface between the two phases. Inert colloids also become trapped at the interfaces, suggesting that the observed attachment can be attributed to capillarity. Over time, these structures coarsen and eventually degrade, illustrating the dynamic nature of these systems. This system lays the foundation for future studies of the interplay of physicochemical properties of the fluid interfaces and bulk phases and microbial responses they provoke to induce complex spatial organization, to study species which occupy distinct niches, and to optimize efficient microbial cross-feeding or protection from competitors.