What Are Biofilms?

          A biofilm is a colony of microorganisms held together by extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) and are ubiquitous on any non-sterile wetted surface. They can contain (in addition to the microorganisms themselves) microbial secretions, corrosion products, and entrapped clay and soil materials. Biofilms are present in a broad range of industrial, environmental, human health, and agricultural systems including drinking water, industrial process systems, medical and dental infections, food production and spoilage, and energy production among others. Some beneficial biofilms are cultivated (waste water treatment, mining, agricultural applications, environmental remediation, and biomass generation), while often biofilms are detrimental to human activities. For example, biofilm in drinking water distribution systems can act as a reservoir for pathogenic organisms for periodic disease outbreaks and deterioration of infrastructure. Industrial systems suffer loss of efficiency in heat exchangers and cooling towers, as well as fouling and plugging of process lines, leading to increased energy costs. Public health biofilm issues include identification of biofilm as a persistent source of contamination associated with medical implants, chronic infections, and dental caries leading to serious long term health impacts for patients and significantly increased medical treatment costs. The consistent theme among biofilms is their ability to thrive under limited nutrient and high stress conditions, making them difficult to kill and eliminate from process surfaces. These biofilm processes, both beneficial and detrimental, require research devices to reproducibly study and grow biofilms to optimize biofilm active compounds and surface treatments, and to help understand basic biofilm processes.

For more information on biofilms: Center for Biofilm Engineering at Montana State University

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