Bacteria and other microbes love living in slimy communities that cling to riverbed rocks and swimming pool walls, contaminate factory equipment and medical implants, and sometimes coat the teeth as plaque. When such microbe gatherings stick to a hard surface, they’re called biofilms. They're also notoriously difficult to clean up, as living in a film helps bacteria weather food shortages and antibiotics better than they would alone. So why would anybody want to try to grow a biofilm?
Though many biofilms harm us now, scientists hope that in the future, they can grow genetically engineered bacteria in large, hardy biofilm communities that produce drugs or alternative fuels at an industrial scale. One research group recently reported that they've grown a biofilm with two different bacteria. Scientists can control the percentages of each type in the film.
"Suppose you want 70/30, or vice versa, or 20/80. You can easily get it," said Arul Jayaraman, a chemical engineer at Texas A&M University who worked on growing the biofilm.
Biofilms can also clear out the bacteria populations when they want, which is no easy feat.
"They can also selectively get rid of it, which I think is quite nice," said James Collins, a bioengineer at Boston University who was not involved in the research. "I overall was very impressed with the advances described," he told InnovationNewsDaily.