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Nat Rev Microbiol. 2016 Aug 11;14(9):563-75. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro.2016.94.

Biofilms: an emergent form of bacterial life.

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University of Duisburg-Essen, Faculty of Chemistry, Biofilm Centre, Universitätsstrasse 5, D-45141 Essen, Germany.
Technical University of Berlin, Department of Environmental Microbiology, Ernst-Reuter-Platz 1, D-10587 Berlin, Germany.
The School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences and The Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.
The Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering and the School of Biological Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore 637551.


Bacterial biofilms are formed by communities that are embedded in a self-produced matrix of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). Importantly, bacteria in biofilms exhibit a set of 'emergent properties' that differ substantially from free-living bacterial cells. In this Review, we consider the fundamental role of the biofilm matrix in establishing the emergent properties of biofilms, describing how the characteristic features of biofilms - such as social cooperation, resource capture and enhanced survival of exposure to antimicrobials - all rely on the structural and functional properties of the matrix. Finally, we highlight the value of an ecological perspective in the study of the emergent properties of biofilms, which enables an appreciation of the ecological success of biofilms as habitat formers and, more generally, as a bacterial lifestyle.

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