Biofilm CMIK

Chemical Microbiology

Together we are strong – a slogan many of us, but most especially bacteria, live by. As such, they form well-organized communities called biofilms on top of moist surfaces. They love doing this in our bathroom drain as much as on the surfaces of our teeth. Some of them make us sick, others lead a peaceful co-existence with us, and a few may even be beneficial. To understand these biofilms and potentially influence them, our scientists have to know which bacteria team up under what conditions. To figure this out, our researchers are essentially watching bacteria at work.


Our Research

Microscopy of a biofilm

HZI scientists of the Chemical Microbiology research group are studying pathogenic biofilm communities. In nature, bacteria do not live in isolation but prefer to team up with other microorganisms into slimy plaques called biofilms. An everyday example of this is the dental plaque on our teeth we are having to fight off daily to protect them. Our scientists characterize these biofilms in an effort to determine which bacteria make up a given biofilm and the ways in which they interact with each other. The colonies are separated out into DNA fingerprints, identified with the help of DNA sequencing, and the dynamics of biofilm formation are observed using confocal laser microscopy and different staining protocols.

Not only is it interesting to see who is co-existing in a given biofilm, but also to study why the bacteria are living together in the first place and who within the community performs what role. In order to figure this out, the researchers grow bacteria on special kinds of nutrient media: carbon substrates enriched with the stable, non-radioactive carbon isotope 13C. The bacteria use this labeled substrate and incorporate the 13C isotope into newly assembled chemical structures like fatty and amino acids. Using a special type of mass spectrometer, scientists are now able to determine which biomolecules have incorporated the isotope. Even individual steps of bacterial metabolism can be precisely tracked using this method. This affords scientists a direct insight into the carbon flow within the colony, which can then be reconstructed using mathematical models.

The models are important for the next step in the research process: Once it has been determined who lives in the community and what their exact job is, the community can be modified – especially in order to push out any bacteria that are pathogenic. The options that are available to scientists for influencing biofilms are manifold and include using coated surfaces the bacteria are unable to attach to or using substances that interfere with inter-bacterial communication. The goal every time: to make a contribution to more optimally fighting biofilm infections in the clinical setting.

Audio Podcast

  • Vom Feind zum Freund - lasst sich das Gute im Biofilm fördern?Bakterien in Biofilmen infizieren Katheter, verstopfen Stents, ruinieren die Zähne, besiedeln Gewebe. Kurz: Sie verursachen viele Infektionen und wir kennen kein Mittel, sie dauerhaft zu zerstören. Aber müssen wir das überhaupt - wäre es nicht möglich, aus gefährlichen Biofilmen, ungefährliche zu machen? Denn in der Natur oder im Darm sind wir sogar auf sie angewiesen. Folgen Sie Wolf-Rainer Abraham in die Welt der Kleinsten und hören Sie wie er Biofilme an Zahnimplantaten manipuliert oder in Gallengangstents für uns nutzt…
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