Biofilms: The Good, the Bad & The Ugly

Friday, April 21, 2006, 3:30 PM

Room 833 SWM Building


James D. Bryers

Department of Bioengineering


The UW Engineered Biomaterials Center (UWEB) University of Washington


Bacterial cells and their extracellular polymers associated with a substratum are called BIOFILMS. Biofilms can create serious problems by causing significant increases in both frictional and heat transfer resistances; by mediating material deterioration; by contaminating artificial organs, catheters, and endoprostheses; and by promoting serious, perhaps fatal infections (e.g., cystic fibrosis). However, biofilms are also a subset of immobilized cell systems which, when used in continuous bioconversion processes, can improve the overall productivity of that conversion versus that of suspended cultures. Beneficial examples of biofilms processes include immobilized cell bioreactors, specialty commodities production and xenobiotic waste degradation. An overview of biofilm processes will be presented as background.

Our research indicates that biofilms are architecturally heterogeneous which can have significant effects on (a) solute mass transfer and (b) retention, expression, and transfer of plasmid DNA material within biofilms discussed and (c) how bacteria communicate at the molecular level and initiate community phenotypic responses. Examples will be discussed where an in-depth understanding of fundamental biofilm processes can provide practical engineering insight into (a) improved productivity of commercially viable recombinant gene products, (b) potentially non-fouling surfaces, and (c) non-toxic, non-inflammatory alternatives to prevent bacterial adhesion and subsequent infections of biomaterials.