Bacteria in the biofilm mode of growth are protected against chemical and mechanical stresses. Biofilms are composed, for the most part, of extracellular polymeric substances (EPSs). The extracellular matrix is composed of different chemical constituents, such as proteins, polysaccharides, and extracellular DNA (eDNA). Here we aimed to identify the roles of different matrix constituents in the viscoelastic response of biofilms. Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, Streptococcus mutans, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms were grown under different conditions yielding distinct matrix chemistries. Next, biofilms were subjected to mechanical deformation and stress relaxation was monitored over time. A Maxwell model possessing an average of four elements for an individual biofilm was used to fit the data. Maxwell elements were defined by a relaxation time constant and their relative importance. Relaxation time constants varied widely over the 104 biofilms included and were divided into seven ranges (500 s). Principal-component analysis was carried out to eliminate related time constant ranges, yielding three principal components that could be related to the known matrix chemistries. The fastest relaxation component (
IMPORTANCE The protection offered by biofilms to organisms that inhabit it against chemical and mechanical stresses is due in part to its matrix of extracellular polymeric substances (EPSs) in which biofilm organisms embed themselves. Mechanical stresses lead to deformation and possible detachment of biofilm organisms, and hence, rearrangement processes occur in a biofilm to relieve it from these stresses. Maxwell analysis of stress relaxation allows the determination of characteristic relaxation time constants, but the biofilm components and matrix constituents associated with different stress relaxation processes have never been identified. Here we grew biofilms with different matrix constituents and used principal-component analysis to reveal that the presence of water and soluble polysaccharides, together with the absence of bacteria, is associated with the fastest relaxation, while other EPSs control a second, slower relaxation. Extracellular DNA, as a matrix constituent, had a distinguishable role with its own unique principal component in stress relaxation with a time constant range between those of other EPSs.