Wednesday, June 25, 2008


A biofilm is a structured community of microorganisms encapsulated within a self-developed polymeric matrix and adherent to a living or inert surface. Biofilms have a large and varied role in human activities from being responsible for a number of diseases in humans and animals to also being invaluable in the treatment of domestic sewage and industrial wastes. (Cambridge Journals) The study of biofilms represents a radical new way of understanding the microbiology of virtually everything around us, from problems that afflict industry to serious public health issues. (Montana State University).

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So the basic questions to ask are: When do biofilms cause problems to humanity? And when are biofilms helpful?

The propensity of biofilms to attach can cause many problems for a wide range of industries. An example of these problems is the contamination that biofilms cause in the pulp and paper manufacturing, and the water and treatment distribution. Biofilms are responsible for billions of dollars in lost industrial productivity, as well as product and capital equipment damage each year. That is why some companies have already started programs of R&D in this area. An example of one of these companies is Finnoflag OY which is developing a product called PMEU that allows the detection of microbes in the wood processing and food industries.
Biofilms can also cause many infections in human beings, and can be really dangerous. Biofilm infections form preferentially on foreign surfaces as well as dead or damaged tissue. These infections develop gradually and may be slow to produce overt symptoms. Once established, however, biofilm infections persist. They are rarely resolved by host defense mechanisms, even in individuals with healthy innate and adaptive immune reactions. (Montana State University). A company in the USA called QuoNova has started to attack the problem of biofilms as a health problem and they are developing products that allow combating biofilms in wounds and in cystic fibrosis in lungs.

Although biofilms sound really harmful, they also have some benefits. For example: they may be used for the self-purification of streams and rivers, in the treatment of waste and pollution and/or the generation of electricity. This is made possible by the protective slimy matrix that prevents attack from the immune system and antibiotics, as well as toxic contaminants while breaking down waste or effluent. (European Research Comission).

It is really good that some companies have already started the R&D of products to combat biofilms, or to enhance their beneficial properties but much more investment should still be done in this area.
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