Building biofilms

B0008256 Confocal micrograph of Bacillus subtilis
Confocal micrograph of Bacillus subtilis Credit: Fernan Federici & Jim Haseloff. Wellcome Images. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0, via Flickr.

I’m pretty amazed by microorganisms. They’re tiny, invisible to our eyes, but are hugely influential in the state of our bodies, our food and in making the Earth around us a habitable place for us to to live. I’ve recently been reading up on structures microorganism such as bacteria and fungi create. One that’s getting a lot of my attention is the humble biofilm.

Bacteria (and other microorganisms)that might be otherwise free-floating, form biofilms by sticking to a surface. New members join in, sticking to the already adhering cells. The cells of a biofilm often embed themselves in goo they secrete called the extracellular polymeric substance (EPS). The newly formed biofilm is more resistant to being moved away or to attack by antibiotics.

Biofilms are everywhere! The slimy stuff that you brush off your teeth in the morning. Biofilm. The scummy goo that clings to pebbles in streams. The nitrogen fixing film that clings to the roots of plants in soil. Also, scientists are just starting to understand how biofilms play a role in human diseases such as  sinus infections and how beneficial bacterial biofilms in the appendix may protect the intestines.

For example, researchers at Case Western University recently discovered how three different microbes- bacteria E. coli and S. marcescens, and the fungus C. tropicalis – work together to form a symbiotic biofilm in the intestines that play a role in Crohn’s disease. The biofilm adheres to the tissue of the intestines and triggers the inflammation associated with Crohn’s disease.

Understanding how different microbes work together under specific environmental triggers may lead to ways to better ways of healing infections and protecting our bodies from pathogens. Additionally, we may gain more insight into how microbial ecosystems work in our soil, water and air.


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