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Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



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Front. Pharmacol. 11:517165.doi: 10.3389/fphar.2020.517165


The worldwide emergence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in pathogenic microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses due to a plethora of reasons, such as genetic mutation and indiscriminate use of antimicrobials, is a major challenge faced by the healthcare sector today. One of the issues at hand is to effectively screen and isolate resistant strains from sensitive ones. Utilizing the distinct nanomechanical properties (e.g., elasticity, intracellular turgor pressure, and Young’s modulus) of microbes can be an intriguing way to achieve this; while atomic force microscopy (AFM), with or without modification of the tips, presents an effective way to investigate such biophysical properties of microbial surfaces or an entire microbial cell. Additionally, advanced AFM instruments, apart from being compatible with aqueous environments—as often is the case for biological samples—can measure the adhesive forces acting between AFM tips/cantilevers (conjugated to bacterium/virion, substrates, and molecules) and target cells/surfaces to develop informative force-distance curves. Moreover, such force spectroscopies provide an idea of the nature of intercellular interactions (e.g., receptor-ligand) or propensity of microbes to aggregate into densely packed layers, that is, the formation of biofilms—a property of resistant strains (e.g., Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa). This mini-review will revisit the use of single-cell force spectroscopy (SCFS) and single-molecule force spectroscopy (SMFS) that are emerging as powerful additions to the arsenal of researchers in the struggle against resistant microbes, identify their strengths and weakness and, finally, prioritize some future directions for research.