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Life after death: the critical role of extracellular DNA in microbial biofilms

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Nicholas JakubovicsORCiD, Robert Shields, Nithyalakshmy Rajarajan, Professor Grant Burgess


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The death and lysis of microbial cells leads to the release of cytoplasmic contents, many of which are rapidly degraded by enzymes. However, some macromolecules survive intact and find new functions in the extracellular environment. There is now strong evidence that DNA released from cells during lysis, or sometimes by active secretion, becomes a key component of the macromolecular scaffold in many different biofilms. Enzymatic degradation of extracellular DNA can weaken the biofilm structure and release microbial cells from the surface. Many bacteria produce extracellular deoxyribonuclease (DNase) enzymes that are apparently tightly regulated to avoid excessive degradation of the biofilm matrix. Interfering with these control mechanisms, or adding exogenous DNases, could prove a potent strategy for controlling biofilm growth.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Jakubovics NS, Shields RC, Rajarajan N, Burgess JG

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Letters in Applied Microbiology

Year: 2013

Volume: 57

Issue: 6

Pages: 467-475

Print publication date: 01/08/2013

ISSN (print): 0266-8254

ISSN (electronic): 1472-765X


DOI: 10.1111/lam.12134

PubMed id: 23848166