Biology ETDs


Linnea Ista

Publication Date



Biofilms represent an ancient, ubiquitous and influential form of life on earth. They are interesting both scientifically and because of their impacts on our environment, health and technology. Biofilm formation is initiated by attachment of bacterial cells from an aqueous suspension onto a suitable attachment substratum. While in certain, well studied cases initial attachment and subsequent biofilm formation is mediated by specific ligand-receptor pairs on the bacteria and attachment substratum, in the open environment, including the ocean, it is assumed to be non-specific and mediated by processes similar to those that drive adsorption of colloids at the water-solid interface. Colloidal principles are studied to determine the molecular and physicochemical interactions involved in the attachment of the model marine bacterium, Cobetia marina to model self-assembled monolayer surfaces. In the simplest application of colloidal principles the wettability of attachment substrata, as measured by the advancing contact angle of water (θAW) on the surface, is frequently used as an approximation for the surface tension. We demonstrate the applicability of this approach for attachment of C. marina and algal zoospores and extend it to the development of a means to control attachment and release of microorganisms by altering and tuning surface θAW. In many cases, however, θAW does not capture all the information necessary to model attachment of bacteria to attachment substrata; SAMs with similar θAW attach different number of bacteria. More advanced colloidal models of initial bacterial attachment have evolved over the last several decades, with the emergence of the model proposed by van Oss, Chaudhury and Good (VCG) as preeminent. The VCG model enables calculation of interfacial tensions by dividing these into two major interactions thought to be important at biointerfaces: apolar, Lifshitz-van der Waals and polar, Lewis acid-base (including hydrogen bonding) interactions. These interfacial tensions are combined to yield ΔGadh, the free energy associated with attachment of bacteria to a substratum. We use VCG to model ΔGadh and interfacial tensions as they relate to model bacterial attachment on SAMs that accumulate cells to different degrees. Even with the more complex interactions measured by VCG, surface energy of the attachment substratum alone was insufficient to predict attachment. VCG was then employed to model attachment of C. marina to a series of SAMs varying systematically in the number of ethylene glycol residues present in the molecule; an identical series has been previously shown to vary dramatically in the number of cells attached as a function of ethylene glycols present. Our results indicate that while VCG adequately models the interfacial tension between water and ethylene glycol SAMs in a manner that predicts bacterial attachment, \u0394Gadh as calculated by VCG neither qualitatively nor quantitatively reflects the attachment data. The VCG model, thus, fails to capture specific information regarding the interactions between the attaching bacteria, water, and the SAM. We show that while hydrogen-bond accepting interactions are very well captured by this model, the ability for SAMs and bacteria to donate hydrogen bonds is not adequately described as the VCG model is currently applied. We also describe ways in which VCG fails to capture two specific biological aspects that may be important in bacterial attachment to surfaces:1.) specific interactions between molecules on the surface and bacteria and 2.) bacterial cell surface heterogeneities that may be important in differential attachment to different substrata.

Project Sponsors

Office of Naval Research, Defense Threat Reduction Agency




Surface Tension, Interfacial Tension, Cobetia marina, Biofilm formation, Bacterial attachment, Delta G

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Biology Department

First Advisor

Werner-Washburne, Margaret

First Committee Member (Chair)

López, Gabriel P

Second Committee Member

Takacs-Vesbach, Cristina

Third Committee Member

Northup, Diana E