Biofilms basically consist of cells embedded in a polymeric extracellular matrix, mostly produced by the organisms themselves — known as extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) — that forms the scaffold for a three-dimensional architecture which is protecting the microbial community from environmental and shear stresses.
The importance and attractiveness of biofilm systems is widely accepted. Biofilms are found in several environments, and play both beneficial and detrimental roles depending on whether their formation is controlled, or it occurs naturally.
In drinking water distribution systems, biofilms are the predominant mode of microbial growth, and their formation poses a significant problem to the drinking water distribution network conditions in buildings as a potential source of bacterial contamination, and also affecting the taste and odor of drinking water and promoting the corrosion of pipes. Additionally, biofilms are predominantly associated with fouling processes in membrane filtration, resulting in a series of operational problems as well as an issue for product quality.
On the other hand, biofilms can have a positive impact, as shown by their extensive use in the field of environmental biotechnology, i.e. self-purification of water, wastewater treatment, bioremediation, etc. Indeed, biofilms can be considered as a natural way of immobilized (whole cell) biocatalysts.
Biofilm formation is a multi-stage process resulting from the balance of several physical, chemical and biological factors. At Wetsus, our strategy is to use a multi-level research approach to examine all these factors, as well as the various technologies to characterize and monitor and, ultimately, to control the biofilms growth. In this way, we aim to gain new knowledge towards finding practical solutions for industries, and a better understanding of both beneficial and detrimental forms of biofilms. In particular, elucidation of biofilm structure is a prerequisite to understand and to model the mass transfer and growth of cells within the sheltering extracellular matrix.