Biofilms are communities of bacteria which live in a self-produced matrix of extracellular polymeric substance. The non-scientific term is slime. Biofilms can be found anywhere solids and liquids meet, from river beds and shower floors to hospitals, inner ears and teeth.
Biofilms are an enormous and costly problem in healthcare. Free floating (planktonic) bacteria are easily controlled with antibiotics. But once bacteria get comfortable in a biofilm, they are relatively impervious to disinfectants, antibiotics and our own immune defenses. Biofilms are now implicated in an amazing 80% of all infections. Our growing understanding of biofilms is causing a paradigm shift on our approach to controlling and treating chronic infection.
Biofilms are not all bad. They occur frequently in nature (ex. pond scum) and are integral in waste water treatment. Research is now underway to harness their microbial processes to remediate hazardous waste, filter industrial water and even form bio-protection barriers around aquifers.
At our March Café, Dr. William Costerton will review the emerging field of biofilm research. He will discuss how biofilms changed our understanding of infectious disease, as well as the promising approaches to defeat this slimy enemy. He will also discuss biofilms in nature and the potential for using them to help our environment.
Dr. Costerton is Director of Biofilm Research (Center for Genomic Sciences) at the Allegheny- Singer Research Institute and Director of Microbial Research at Allegheny General Hospital. He received his PhD in microbiology from the Univ. of Western Ontario and shook up his scientific community as a postdoc in 1978 with his research on biofilms.