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Open Access Research article

Holdfast spreading and thickening during Caulobacter crescentus attachment to surfaces

Guanglai Li12, Yves V Brun3 and Jay X Tang1*

Author Affiliations

1 Physics Department, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA

2 Institute of Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA

3 Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA

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BMC Microbiology 2013, 13:139  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-13-139

Published: 19 June 2013



Adhesion to surfaces facilitates many crucial functions of microbes in their natural habitats. Thus understanding the mechanism of microbial adhesion is of broad interest to the microbiology research community.


We report a study by fluorescence imaging and atomic force microscopy on the growth in size and thickness of the holdfast of synchronized Caulobacter crescentus cells as they attach to a glass surface. We found that the holdfast undergoes a two-stage process of spreading and thickening during its morphogenesis. The holdfast first forms a thin plate on the surface. The diameter of the holdfast plate reaches its final average value of 360 nm by the cell age of ~ 30 min, while its thickness further increases until the age of ~ 60 min. Our AFM analysis indicates that the holdfast is typically thicker in the middle, with gradual falloff in thickness towards the outer edge.


We propose that the newly secreted holdfast substance is fluid-like. It has strong affinity to the surface and cures to form a plate-like holdfast capable of supporting strong and permanent adhesion.

Caulobacter; Bioadhesives; Bacterial adhesion; Differentiation; Biofouling; Biofilms