Experimental Detection and Visualization of the Extracellular Matrix in Macrocolony Biofilms

Methods Mol Biol. 2017:1657:133-145. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-7240-1_11.


By adopting elaborate three-dimensional morphologies that vary according to their extracellular matrix composition, macrocolony biofilms offer a unique opportunity to interrogate about the roles of specific matrix components in shaping biofilm architecture. Here, we describe two methods optimized for Escherichia coli that profit from morphology and the high level of structural organization of macrocolonies to gain insight into the production and assembly of amyloid curli and cellulose-the two major biofilm matrix elements of E. coli-in biofilms. The first method, the macrocolony morphology assay, is based on the ability of curli and cellulose-either alone or in combination-to generate specific morphological and Congo Red-staining patterns in E. coli macrocolonies, which can then be used as a direct visual readout for the production of these matrix components. The second method involves thin sectioning of macrocolonies, which along with in situ staining of amyloid curli and cellulose and microscopic imaging allows gaining fine details of the spatial arrangement of both matrix elements inside macrocolonies. Beyond their current use with E. coli and related curli and cellulose-producing Enterobacteriaceae, both the methods offer the potential to be adapted to other bacterial species.

Keywords: Amyloid; Bacteria; Biofilm; C-di-GMP; Cellulose; Congo red; Curli; Escherichia coli; Exopolysaccharide; Thioflavine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena
  • Biofilms*
  • Cellulose / metabolism
  • Cyclic GMP / analogs & derivatives
  • Cyclic GMP / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism*
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • bis(3',5')-cyclic diguanylic acid
  • Cellulose
  • Cyclic GMP