ENVR103 – Biofilms

Have you ever slipped on rocks at the beach or at the river and when you tried to stand up again you felt the surface of the rock to be smooth, slick and slimy? The layer on the rock that looks and feels like the mucus layer inside your mouth; is called a biofilm.

Biofilm were first discovered by a scientist called Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in Holland more than 300years ago. Back then, he tried to kill a biofilm but noticed that he could only get the free swimming cells, not the bacteria in the biofilm. Biofilm, however, is far from only occupying rocks in rivers. They are literary everywhere!

A biofilm is a community of microorganisms working, supporting and living together. The community is very resilient against antibiotics, chemicals, radiation and other forms of ‘attacks’. Scientist today realize that more research has to be conducted to understand the importance of biofilms and how we can control it.

One example were biofilms come to use are in cows. Mammalian digestive enzymes can’t break down cellulose. Cows eat grass and grass as you know is mostly cellulose. So how do they survive? 

In the rumen (one of the cows stomachs), cows have an amazing bacterial culture with about 30 different species of bacteria, 40 species of protozoa (microorganisms) and 5 species of yeast. It’s actually this culture the cow is feeding while eating the grass. The bacteria, in the biofilm in the rumen, breaks down the cellulose and converts it to a substance called microbial biomass that in turn produces the proteins, carbohydrates and lipids (fat cells) that the cow can use.?

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