Biofilm Basics

A biofilm is a microscopic ‘city’ of bacteria. They are usually so thin that you can’t see them but they are everywhere.

Biofilms start when microorganisms colonize surfaces. The bacteria form a community because inhabiting a biofilm confers significant advantages on its residents. They are protected from environmental threats -desiccation, antibiotics and biocides – and form symbiotic relationships with other residents allowing exchange of nutrients and metabolites.

They talk to each other. They help each other out. Just like communities of other organisms do – including us.

But biofilms have never enjoyed a good reputation. They are implicated in many infections and illnesses – cystic fibrosis, otitis media, Legionella, mycobacteria and Helicobacter in potable water systems as well as colonisation of indwelling and percutaneous medical devices – catheters, joints, stents etc – as well as fouling ships’ hulls and oil pipelines.

They are a problem medically as they are impervious to most antibiotics and biocides and their presence can cause significant morbidity or mortality. But biofilms are also ubiquitous in non-medical settings. Far more bacteria exist in sessile (fixed in place) biofilms than in a ‘planktonic’ state.

Biofilms also have some unique properties that can be used to competitively exclude clinically significant pathogens as well as producing enzymes to digest soils.

The bacteria we use in the BactiZyme range are incapable of causing disease in humans and are also particularly good at forming biofilms. The biofilms digest fats, oils, greases and other soiling and keep doing it until the soiling is gone. They then ‘hibernate’ by forming a spore (a microscopic seed) and germinate when conditions are favourable – when there’s more soiling for them to eat.