New technologies for studying biofilms

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The results of recent biofilm characterizations have helped reveal the complexities of these surface-associated communities of microorganisms. The activities of the cells and the structure of the extracellular matrix material demonstrate that biofilm bacteria engage in a variety of physiological behaviors that are distinct from planktonic cells (1 – 3 ). For example, bacteria in biofilms are adapted to growth on surfaces, and most produce adhesins and extracellular polymers that allow the cells to firmly adhere to the surfaces or to neighboring cells ( 4 – 6 ). The extracellular material of biofilms contains polysaccharides, proteins, and DNA that form a glue-like substance for adhesion to the surface and for the three-dimensional (3D) biofilm architecture ( 4 ). The matrix material, although produced by the individual cells, forms structures that provide benefits for the entire community, including protection of the cells from various environmental stresses ( 7 – 9 ). Biofilm cells form a community and engage in intercellular signaling activities ( 10 – 19 ). Diffusible signaling molecules and metabolites provide cues for expression of genes that may benefit the entire community, such as genes for production of extracellular enzymes that allow the biofilm bacteria to utilize complex nutrient sources ( 18 , 20 – 22 ). Biofilm cells are not static. Many microorganisms have adapted to surface-associated motility, such as twitching and swarming motility ( 23 – 28 ). Cellular activities, including matrix production, intercellular signaling, and surface-associated swarming motility suggest that biofilms engage in communal activities. As a result, biofilms have been compared to multicellular organs where cells differentiate with specialized functions ( 2 , 29 ). However, bacteria do not always cooperate with each other. Biofilms are also sites of intense competition. The bacteria within biofilms compete for nutrients and space by producing toxic chemicals to inhibit or kill neighboring cells or inject toxins directly into neighboring cells through type VI secretion ( 30 – 33 ). Therefore, biofilm cells exhibit both communal and competitive activities.




Franklin M, Chang C, Akiyama T, Bothner B, "New technologies for studying biofilms (book chapter)," Book title: Microbial Biofilms, 2nd Edition. Ghannoum MA, Parsek M, Whiteley M, Mukherjee P (eds.) ASM Press, 2015 pp. 1–23. Also featured in: Microbiol Spectr., Aug 2015 3(4).
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