What are

Biofilms are structured communities of bacterial or fungal cells enclosed in a self-produced polymeric matrix that adheres to both inert and living surfaces. Biofilms provide a protective shield for bacteria and fungi which allows them to thrive and resist damage from many extreme environmental conditions. Biofilm-encased microbes, which are almost universally resistant to disinfectants and antibiotics, can lead to prolonged and chronic infection, amputation, long-term disability, and death. In industrial processes, microbial biofilms grow on many different types of equipment surfaces and produce biofouling and biocorrosion that result in process inefficiencies, increased maintenance, product contamination, and over $200 billion in additional costs per year in the US alone.


Vibrant colors of this thermal pool in Yellowstone National Park are the result of microbial biofilms.

High-Rise Cities of the Microbial World

This animated movie provides a realistic view of the three-dimensional architecture of a Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilm, which is much like a city made up of high-rises with curving, rather than flat, surfaces. Bacterial biofilms are present on most moist or wet surfaces in nature, though once formed, they are often able to survive very dry conditions. Studies of biofilms have revealed elaborate levels of organization within the biofilm, including differentiated cells, structured groups of cells, and channels that facilitate transport of water and nutrients.

Developed at the Center for Biofilm Engineering at Montana State University, this movie consists of multiple images captured by confocal scanning laser microscopy (CSLM), using FM 1-43 stain. When placed in high-shear conditions, such as within water rapidly flowing in a stream, against a ship’s hull, or through a pipe, these biofilm structures tend to bend, stretch, and become even stronger to withstand the forces of fluid flow. The resilience and adaptability of biofilms to environmental stresses is responsible for many of the negative characteristics of biofilms related to infection, and to biofouling.

Betsey Pitts and Ellen Swogger collected the biofilm images. Video courtesy of The Center for Biofilm Engineering, Montana State University, Bozeman.

Biofilms vs. Disinfectants: Persistence is Their Key

This animated movie (to the right) shows a computer model time-lapse simulation of a developing biofilm. At the 100-hour time point, the biofilm is placed in continuous contact with a disinfectant for 15 hours. This should be more than enough time for a disinfectant to kill any bacterial life. As the animation continues, “persister cells” (low metabolic rate cells protected deep within the biofilm) are seen to have a profound influence promoting the survival of the biofilm. This movie demonstrates the remarkable resistance of microbial biofilms to disinfectants and other chemical agents, including most antibiotics.

In this time-lapse simulation of a developing biofilm, green cells represent living bacterial cells within the biofilm. Red cells represent dead bacterial cells within the biofilm, as a result of 15 hours direct contact with a disinfectant.

Video courtesy of The Center for Biofilm Engineering, Montana State University, Bozeman.


The Center for Biofilm Engineering at
Montana State University (Bozeman)

At the Center for Biofilm Engineering (CBE) , multidisciplinary research teams have been developing solutions to biofilm problems for two decades. The CBE was established in 1990 as a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center. As the only Research Center among ten such centers to have become self-supporting, the CBE is widely considered the premier biofilm research institute in the world. Microbion is an industrial member of the CBE, and we work with the CBE on a regular basis to advance effective solutions to medical and industrial biofilm problems. Visit CBE website>>