Yet biofilms also have equal potential for good behaviour, in particular as agents of self-purification in streams and rivers, waste and pollution treatment, or generation of carbon-neutral electricity. These critical properties are derived from the existence of the protective slimy matrix within which members of the community live, preventing attack from both the immune system and antibiotics, but at the same time shielding them from toxic contaminants while breaking down waste or effluent.
The study of biofilms has emerged over the last three decades in various disciplines such as biotechnology, bioengineering or infectious disease research, leading to rapid progress, but also fragmentation and duplication of effort. The European Science Foundation (ESF) has stepped in to unite Europe's effort and bring together scientists with the required skills in relevant fields such as genetics, molecular biology, microscopy, medical microbiology, environmental science and ecology.
The programme began with an Exploratory Workshop in September 2007, leading to a proposal for a new body to coordinate activities, the European Biofilm Net (EBN). The ESF workshop highlighted the huge potential and importance of biofilms, and also drew attention to exciting work unravelling the complex genetic and cellular interactions within these small yet teeming communities.
As the ESF Biofilm workshop's convenor Tom J. Battin, from the University of Vienna, pointed out, biofilms are involved in most chronic infections, including killers such as cystic fibrosis, and endocarditis in the heart. In cystic fibrosis, excess mucus production in the airways gives sanctuary to bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which actually mop up the dead carcasses of white blood cells sent by the immune system, enabling them to construct their protective biofilm coat.
In this case the immune system is the architect of its own problems, helping create the shield used to repel its own agents, as well as resisting antibiotics. Indeed resistance against antibiotics is itself one of the biggest problems of all associated with biofilms, Battin noted.
"This becomes particularly dramatic for endocarditis patients, as was outlined at the workshop by Annette Moter from the Charite in Berlin," said Battin. Endocarditis is a rare but serious disease in which one of the four heart valves, the heart lining, or heart muscle, are infected by a bacterial biofilm, often comprising streptococci, and become inflamed. As the biofilms are resistant to antibiotics and the immune system's white blood cells, very often the only remedy is surgery, to replace a damaged valve, which can itself cause problems. The hope is that greater understanding will yield new drugs that reach the infected heart valve and break up the biofilm.
As Battin pointed out, biofilms can pose a big problem in large-scale water treatment plants, and yet for the very same reasons can play a positive role in the very same process, breaking down contaminants in waste and natural waters, for example. Further research will help ensure that the positive role is accentuated, while avoiding the problems.
The ESF workshop also highlighted greater understanding of the complex interactions within biofilms, which often comprise not just one species of bacteria, but a whole host of different micro-organisms, including archaea, protozoa, fungi, and even tiny metazoa actually comprising multiple cells. Many biofilms are in fact complete micro-ecosystems, within which there is competition as well as cooperation, and unraveling the interactions will reveal valuable insights into how these evolved.
Yet there is also great excitement about an emerging application that could have some potential for green energy production - the use of biofilms to power microbial fuel cells whose fuel could be wastewater, as outlined at the ESF workshop by Cristian Picioreanu, Delft University of Technology. This exploits the ability of bacteria to transfer electrons to metals, which can be the cathode of a fuel cell, via the minute tentacles called phili extending from their surface.
The ESF Workshop, "Valuing Biofilm Services: the Beauty and the Beast", was held 19-22 September at the interuniversity research center WasserCluster Lunz, Austria. This is being followed by a proposal for the EBN, with the specific objectives of developing both laboratory and computational techniques, while integrating relevant fields such as system biology or ecology and evolution, to create the interdisciplinary platform for a new era of biofilm research.
Each year, ESF supports approximately 50 Exploratory Workshops across all scientific domains. These small, interactive group sessions are aimed at opening up new directions in research to explore new fields with a potential impact on developments in science.
Thomas Lau | alfa
Complete skin regeneration system of fish unraveled
24.04.2018 | Tokyo Institute of Technology
Scientists generate an atlas of the human genome using stem cells
24.04.2018 | The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
At the Hannover Messe 2018, the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) will show how, in the future, astronauts could produce their own tools or spare parts in zero gravity using 3D printing. This will reduce, weight and transport costs for space missions. Visitors can experience the innovative additive manufacturing process live at the fair.
Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity is the name of the project in which a component is produced by applying metallic powder layers and then...
Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.
Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...
University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.
Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.
Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.
Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...
Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.
The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
09.04.2018 | Event News
24.04.2018 | Life Sciences
24.04.2018 | Materials Sciences
24.04.2018 | Trade Fair News