Biofilms are groups of microorganisms that have come together on a surface. Many bacteria commonly exist in the environment in biofilms, so to understand bacteria and their survival, it’s vital we understand how biofilms form and how being in a biofilm helps bacteria survive.
In the Quadram Institute, we’re using our expertise to understand biofilms in a number of environments, including within the food chain and in the human gut, where the presence of bacteria in biofilms may have positive or negative impacts on our health.
Bacteria form biofilms by excreting a sticky layer of slime, made up from sugars, proteins and DNA, that binds the bacteria together and to a surface. Biofilms may also be formed by communities of different microorganisms, rather than a single strain, so we need to understand the dynamics of microbial communities to really understand biofilms.
For example, bacteria in a biofilm may be better able to survive cleaning or disinfectant treatments, which would make them a particular problem for healthcare and in food production. The Quadram Institute will combine microbiology, genomics, bioinformatics and mathematical modelling to understand bacterial behaviour and interactions within these environments, to inform new ways of working to improve our safety. For example, we are developing methods to study how biofilms evolve antimicrobial resistance under stress.
Quadram Institute researchers will also be studying biofilms in the microbiome, the complex community of microorganisms that we host in our bodies. This relies on strong interdisciplinary research bringing together clinical research with food research and expertise in microbiology, gut biology and the mucosa. The aim is to understand what role biofilms may play in the microbiome and how modulating biofilm formation can tip the balance to favour healthy microbiome populations. We are studying how gut symbionts adhere to the lining of the gut and how this may help reduce pathogen infection. We want to find out what microbial factors promote the formation of biofilms, and how this affects the colonisation of beneficial bacteria and providing resistance to pathogens.