Introduction to Biofilms

  • Steven L. PercivalEmail author
  • Sladjana Malic
  • Helena Cruz
  • David W. Williams
Part of the Springer Series on Biofilms book series (BIOFILMS, volume 6)


In the seventeenth century, a dry-goods merchant named Antonie van Leeuwenhoek first observed “animalcules” swarming on living and dead matter. Leeuwenhoek’s curiosity and inventiveness were remarkable; he discovered these “animalcules” in the tartar on his own teeth and even after meticulous cleansing, the remaining opaque deposits isolated between his teeth were still “as thick as if it were batter”. These deposits contained a mat of various forms of “animalcules” that we now know were the bacteria of dental plaque. It is reasonable to suggest that this early study of dental plaque was the first documented evidence of the existence of microbial biofilms. Today, we generally define such biofilms as microbial communities adhered to a substratum and encased within an extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) produced by the microbial cells themselves. Biofilms may form on a wide variety of surfaces, including natural aquatic systems living tissues, indwelling medical devices and industrial/potable water system piping. The vast majority of microbes grow as biofilms in aqueous environments. These biofilms can be benign or pathogenic, releasing harmful products and toxins, which become encased within the biofilm matrix. Biofilm formation is a phenomenon that occurs in both natural and man-made environments under diverse conditions, occurring on most moist surfaces, plant roots and nearly every living animal. Biofilms may exist as beneficial epithilic communities in rivers and streams, wastewater treatment plant trickling beds or in the alimentary canal of mammals. Given the prevalence of biofilms in natural environments, it is not surprising that these growth forms are responsible for infection in humans and animals. In humans, biofilms have been linked with numerous conditions and equally in animals equivalent infections may occur.


Extracellular Polymeric Substance Quorum Sense Urinary Catheter Dental Plaque Extracellular Polymer 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven L. Percival
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sladjana Malic
    • 2
  • Helena Cruz
    • 3
  • David W. Williams
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Pathology, Medical SchoolWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA
  2. 2.Oral Microbiology Group, Tissue Engineering and Reparative Dentistry, School of DentistryCardiff UniversityCardiffUK
  3. 3.Division of Microbiology and Risk Assessment, National Food InstituteTechnical University of DenmarkSøborgDenmark

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