Biofilm Communities – The Organized Criminals Of Cellular Biology

Richard Longland is looking for a way to get word out about biofilm, and to spread that word beyond the scientific community with his coming film, Why am I Still Sick?.  After talking to the real brainpower here at Ondine, Richard sat down with me and captured my views on biofilm and infectious disease for his feature length piece on biofilm.  Richard was clearly familiar with the joy I take in making complex subjects easier to understand, and asked me how I would describe biofilm in order to make people aware of the danger it poses. It wasn’t something that I had given thought to beforehand, but the obvious answer was that biofilm communities are the organized criminals of cellular biology.

Stages of Biofilm Development - Source: Wikipedia Commons

Let’s briefly set the stage for this analogy.  Each cell, human, bacterial or otherwise, can represent an individual member of society, and we will confine the boundaries of society to an individual human body.  All of the members of this population have the potential to contribute to society, and considerable potential to cause damage.  For example, bacteria are most well known for their infectious properties, but they are active contributors to our lives in many ways, most notably for their role in digestion.   Likewise, human cells are thought of as benevolent, but they can cross the line when they mutate into tumors, or contribute to autoimmune diseases.  What causes these cells to behave in a positive or a negative manner is complex, but it is often the slightest outside influence that can change the entire “life” of a cell.

What causes a cell to behave badly?  Often it is simple circumstance.  Bacteria accustomed to their home in the colon can react rather unpredictably if displaced.  Often they are simply unable to survive in their new environments, but sometimes they react violently.  Human cells can be the victims of a poor upbringing (developmental disorders), and the abuse of substances can lead both human and bacterial cells to a life of crime.

On their own, individual cells are rarely a cause for concern, and can be dealt with swiftly by the police force of the human body – the immune system.  Society grows anxious, however, when these cells band together as biofilm.  This resilient group of goons gives off all the same signals that the immune system used to round up the independent thugs, but their unity makes them strong.  Much like gangs, we know they’re there, and we even know what they look like, yet we can’t always rid ourselves of them.  One member from the front lines might fall, but there is always someone to take his place.

In my next post I’ll deal with some more of how bacteria in a biofilm work together, how they spread, and what we can do to free ourselves of such a pervasive problem.

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4 Responses to “Biofilm Communities – The Organized Criminals Of Cellular Biology”

  1. Excellent article, We could not concur more with you. This is really a awesome web page having nice articles. I am going to most certainly be back…Many thanks

  2. Richard says:

    Tom, nice blog post as usual. I learned a lot by talking with everyone at Ondine, so I was grateful to have time with each and every one of you. The topic of bacterial biofilms can be complex, so breaking these concepts down into metaphors is helpful to the public…and film makers! 😉

    So, keep writing. I takes time to elucidate these concepts, educate professionals and heal people. Keep up the good work.

  3. lisa ridino says:

    Your analogies are brilliant. They are so valuable to those friends and family who have vehemetly doubted what they could not understand.

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