Bacillus subtilis

Biofilms in nature often contain a variety of bacteria, algae and protozoa but it is possible to grow a biofilm with a single species.

One such species is Bacillus subtilis which can readily switch from its motile, planktonic state to form extremely robust biofilms. Recent studies have shown B. subtilis biofilms to be more nonwetting – that is, impervious to liquids – than Teflon. Until now Teflon had been thought to be the slipperiest substance on earth – even a gecko can’t stick to it!

B. subtilis is not a human pathogen. It is a harmless spore former ubiquitous in soil. It is particularly well suited to industrial applications due to its lack of pathogenicity, ubiquity in the environment and ease of culture.

It has a long history of safe use in food production, bioremediation and manufacturing – it is the biology in biological laundry detergents, for example – and has been used for centuries in the production of the traditional Japanese dish Natto without any known reported adverse effects.

In the USA. B subtilis has achieved GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) status and there is no evidence of pathogenicity to humans in general.

The ability of B. subtilis to form a stable biofilm that can digest body fluids, fats, dirt, grease and grime is well established and is already being exploited commercially in products from floor cleaners to waste oil digesters.

It is only now that its true potential in making hospital wards cleaner, safer and more hygienic is being realised.

In trials in the UK, with the NHS, the bacilli in BactiZyme destroyed the harmful bacteria that cause hospital-acquired infections.

It produces natural antibiotics effective against a range of pathogenic bacteria. One of them – subtilin – has a broad spectrum antimicrobial activity and has long been known for its ability to kill Clostridium spores. Using this activity might offer an alternative to current methods for controlling C. diff as there is already evidence that using B. subtilis as a probiotic dietary supplement is effective against Clostridium difficile-associated disease.