Sticky, slimy and designed to invade our body, biofilms are protective coatings produced by many types of bacteria to resist antibiotics and our natural defences. They are able to grow into large colonies that stick to tissue and gum up internal organs. This is why diseases such as cholera and certain infections of the lung and sinuses are difficult to treat unless the colony is surgically removed. Using new super-resolution microscopes to analyse these sticky plaques, scientists have created 3D reconstructions of biofilms. The false-coloured image here shows cholera bacteria (blue), which attach to a surface using a glue-like protein (green). They secrete another substance (grey) to stick to each other, and cover themselves with a protective coating (red) of protein and sugar molecules. Understanding more about the formation and structure of biofilms could pave the way for new forms of treatment that prevent or destroy them.
Written by Mick Warwicker
- Veysel Berk
- Department of Physics, University of California, Berkeley, USA
- Reprinted with permission from AAAS.
- Published in Science 337:235 (2012)