The ability to study a single bacterium
or small ensembles of bacteria is integral to answering some of biology’s most complex problems. Microfluidic platforms are a unique and useful tool to create micro- and nanoscale features feasible of containing micron-sized bacteria, to handle extremely small fluid volumes (attoliters!), and to systematically study the behavioral response of bacteria to a host of environmental changes such as media, flow rate, and viscosity. To this end, in collaboration with Prof. Yves Brun of the Indiana University Department of Biology, we have developed microfluidic systems to study the bacterium Caulobacter crescentus. Fundamental studies are currently underway to monitor the swimming behavior of these bacteria in confined spaces and determine how motility affects cellular processes. Additionally, the adhesive holdfast that tethers C. crescentus to a host of surfaces has been identified as nature’s strongest glue; this adhesive shows great promise in a variety of biomedical applications, so projects in this area of the Jacobson group also involve probing the adhesive properties of this bacterium and determining factors that affect adhesion.