Biofilms are communities of microbes. Together they produce a sticky slime that glues their cells together and cements them to a variety of surfaces. The slime enables biofilms to form elaborate multi-cellular structures, often with water-filled channels that bring food to the resident cells and carry away toxic waste materials. Living in slime-encased biofilms is also important for microbe survival as the cells are protected from stresses such as dehydration, UV light, disinfectants, antibiotics and the immune system. Biofilms are therefore a preferred lifestyle for many microorganisms.
Biofilms are found in almost every environment on Earth and have been around for at least 3.3. billion years. They can pose significant problems to humans including: chronic infections that resist antibiotic treatment; tooth decay, crop disease, food spoilage, food poisoning; and in industrial settings where they cause fouling and corrosion of pipes, ships, bridges and oil rigs.
Biofilms can also be beneficial. For example, by fixing nitrogen for plants, in waste-water treatment, and in the production of fermented foods such as kefir and kombucha.
What is a biofilm matrix? Find out more here