Stickiness of extracellular polymeric substances on different surfaces via magnetic tweezers. Academic Article uri icon


  • Organic particle dynamics in the surface ocean plays a critical part in the marine carbon cycle. Aggregation of marine organic particles drives their downward transport to support various marine organisms on their transit to the sediments. Extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) from various microbes are a major contributor to the oceanic organic particle pool. The stickiness of EPS is expected to play a determining role in the aggregation process of particles; however, stickiness parameters are usually indirectly estimated through data fitting without direct assessment. Here a magnetic tweezer method was developed to quantitatively assess the stickiness of three model EPS produced by: Amphora sp., (diatom), Emiliania huxleyi (coccolithophore), and Sagittula stellata (bacteria), under different in vitro environmental conditions (salinity or EDTA complexed cations) and surface matrices (EPS-EPS and bare glass). Our results showed the stickiness of three microbial EPS decreasing for S. stellata>E. huxleyi>Amphora sp., in line with their decreasing protein-to-carbohydrate (P/C) ratios (related to their relative hydrophobicity). The data not only emphasize the importance of hydrophobicity on EPS stickiness, but also demonstrates that salinity and the nature of the substrate surface can influence the stickiness. Furthermore, we investigated stickiness between various types of EPS, and the observed selective stickiness of EPS between species may shed light on the interactions among heterogeneous marine microorganisms. Overall, this newly developed system provides a platform to assess the EPS stickiness to advance our understanding of the aggregation and sedimentation process of organic particles that are critical for the fate of organic carbon as well as for biofilm formation and microbial colonization of surfaces in the ocean.

published proceedings

  • Sci Total Environ

author list (cited authors)

  • Chen, C., Shiu, R., Hsieh, Y., Xu, C., Vazquez, C. I., Cui, Y., ... Chin, W.

citation count

  • 6

complete list of authors

  • Chen, Chi-Shuo||Shiu, Ruei-Feng||Hsieh, Yu-Ying||Xu, Chen||Vazquez, Carlos I||Cui, Yujia||Hsu, Ian C||Quigg, Antonietta||Santschi, Peter H||Chin, Wei-Chun

publication date

  • February 2021