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Microbial biofilms evoke Jekyll & Hyde effects
Date:10/26/2007

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 systems 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,
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Contact: Tom Battin
tom.battin@univie.ac.at
43-131-336-1479
European Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

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