Microbes such as bacteria tend to live in complex colonies called biofilms, where there can resist antibiotics and cause more problems for the immune system. Biofilms comprising millions of bacteria are at the root of many serious chronic infectious diseases such as cystic fibrosis and periodontal disease, as well as industrial contamination, biofouling and biocorrosion.
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 Europes 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 workshops 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.
|Contact: Tom Battin|
European Science Foundation