This will be the first in a number of posts about biofilms. This is not about cinematic experiences involving Richard Attenborough and lovely furry animals but about something you encounter every day of your life.
What Is Biofilm?
You may not be familiar with the term biofilm, but it is something that you come into contact with every day. The plaque that forms on your teeth and causes tooth decay and periodontal disease is a type of biofilm. Clogged drains also are caused by biofilm, and you may have encountered biofilm-coated rocks when walking into a river or stream.
Biofilms form when bacteria stick to surfaces in some form of watery environment and begin to excrete a slimy, gluelike substance that can stick to all kinds of materials–metals, plastics, soil particles, medical implant materials, biological tissues.
Biofilms can be formed by a single bacterial species, but biofilms more often consist of many species of bacteria, as well as fungi, algae, protozoa, debris, and corrosion products. Essentially, a biofilm may form on any surface exposed to bacteria and some amount of water.1
Dental plaque is a yellowish biofilm that builds up on the teeth.
Dental plaque is a yellowish biofilm that builds up on the teeth. Biofilms contain communities of disease-causing bacteria and their uncontrolled accumulation is associated with cavities and gum disease (both gingivitis and periodontitis).
In the past, scientists studied bacteria by looking through a microscope at cells suspended in a water droplet. Today, scientists believe that the disease-causing bacteria do not exist as isolated cells, such as in the water droplet, but rather they stick to various wetted surfaces in organized colonies that form diverse communities–biofilms.
Think of biofilm as a teeming city of bacteria, the foods they live on, the waste products they create and a glue which sticks the whole mess to a surface.
Next time we will look at how biofilms are created.