Bacterial response to transient physical stress is critical to their homeostasis and survival in the dynamic natural environment. Because of the lack of biophysical tools capable of delivering precise and localized physical perturbations to a bacterial community, the underlying mechanism of microbial signal transduction has remained unexplored. Here, we developed multiscale and structured silicon (Si) materials as nongenetic optical transducers capable of modulating the activities of both single bacterial cells and biofilms at high spatiotemporal resolution. Upon optical stimulation, we capture a previously unidentified form of rapid, photothermal gradient–dependent, intercellular calcium signaling within the biofilm. We also found an unexpected coupling between calcium dynamics and biofilm mechanics, which could be of importance for biofilm resistance. Our results suggest that functional integration of Si materials and bacteria, and associated control of signal transduction, may lead to hybrid living matter toward future synthetic biology and adaptable materials.
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