CLUSTER 3: Microbial biofilms
Unravelling the mechanisms behind biofilm establishment and functioning is key to integrating engineering and life sciences. SCELSE has adopted a novel and powerful experimental bottom-up approach using model systems - designing habitat specific biofilms in the laboratory - to address defined biofilm-environment interactions in micro-scales. Indeed, the recent revolution in bringing biofilm biology to the forefront of environmental research has been realised by the use of the first generation of 3D experimental biofilms. SCELSE is developing novel "ecosystem-on–a-chip" platforms for well characterised 3D biofilm systems that undertake defined structure-function analysis. These underpin the development of enhanced control of environmental engineered systems (Cluster 1) and improved understanding and controlling bacterial pathogens embedded in environmental and water biofilms (Cluster 4).
SCELSE's research areas that focus in this cluster include the role of chemical signals that allow biofilm members to communicate, and the exopolymeric matrix that builds the biofilm "house". For example, the chemical signals and signal antagonists that build and disperse biofilms will be analysed. This research capitalises on the strength of SCELSE members who were among the first to identify such chemical communication modules. Community dynamics are studied and controlled using these small molecules in our defined biofilm systems. SCELSE's cross-cluster approach also allows for bioprocess biofilm systems to be understood from this perspective.
A key feature of the biofilm matrix is protection, and research in this cluster is aimed at enhancing or mitigating the biofilm "shield" against environmental stresses, including predation, in both environmental and medical settings (Cluster 4). Broadly, the ecosystem-on-a-chip will elucidate the means by which bacteria recognise the surrounding chemistry (e.g. cues, oxygen, free radicals and nutrients) and maximise their responses (e.g. transport, chemotaxis, detoxification and defences). To achieve this objective, SCELSE will also adopt advances in the chemistry of bioactives and biophysics for studying heterogeneity at the single cell-level in multi-species consortia. This will track subpopulations of cells expressing, for example, adaptive mutational responses and persister cell physiology, of key importance for our understanding of how pathogens "hide" in biofilm communities (Cluster 4).
High resolution imaging technologies will enable important discoveries relating to biofilm three dimensional architecture and communal bioprocesses.
|16S rRNA FISH of sludge sample||Biofilm 3D visualisation using Imaris image analysis software||Multi-species bacterial consortium (visualised by FISH) showing complex biofilm architecture.|