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FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2004 Jul 15;236(2):163-73.

What drives bacteria to produce a biofilm?

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The Channing Laboratory, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, 181 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Nearly 40 years ago, Dr. R.J. Gibbons made the first reports of the clinical relevance of what we now know as bacterial biofilms when he published his observations of the role of polysaccharide glycocalyx formation on teeth by Streptococcus mutans [Sci. Am. 238 (1978) 86]. As the clinical relevance of bacterial biofilm formation became increasingly apparent, interest in the phenomenon exploded. Studies are rapidly shedding light on the biomolecular pathways leading to this sessile mode of growth but many fundamental questions remain. The intent of this review is to consider the reasons why bacteria switch from a free-floating to a biofilm mode of growth. The currently available wealth of data pertaining to the molecular genetics of biofilm formation in commonly studied, clinically relevant, single-species biofilms will be discussed in an effort to decipher the motivation behind the transition from planktonic to sessile growth in the human body. Four potential incentives behind the formation of biofilms by bacteria during infection are considered: (1) protection from harmful conditions in the host (defense), (2) sequestration to a nutrient-rich area (colonization), (3) utilization of cooperative benefits (community), (4) biofilms normally grow as biofilms and planktonic cultures are an in vitro artifact (biofilms as the default mode of growth).

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