The future of biofilms

Prevention of biofilms is a key activity of NBIC (National Biofilms Innovation Centre) and in November 2021 CFA’s Dr Ken Johnston joined its multi-disciplinary workshop to share knowledge and identify needs for future research and innovation in the field.

Almost half (49%) of NBIC’s Proof of Concept projects funded since 2018 have been on the prevention of biofilms, covering medical, dental, household, environmental and marine applications. As the keynote presenter commented: “The sheer scale of interdisciplinarity required is staggering” when working on innovative approaches to biofilm prevention. A new approach in the laboratory, new performance standards and reproducible biofilm testing methods are all required to allow meaningful claims.

Food industry concerns about biofilms on surfaces inaccessible to cleaning, and on damaged surfaces, were the focus of one breakout group. It learned of past international long-running outbreaks of Listeriosis caused by inadequate cleaning of food manufacturing areas which has allowed Listeria to persist, probably in biofilms, and contaminate the food.

Regulations governing sanitizer use in the industry and regulatory classification of food contact surfaces, make it difficult to introduce innovative cleaning agents and set approval processes for potential new anti-biofilm food contact surfaces. However, ways to make better use of existing agents and to bring innovations proven in other application sectors could be very interesting.

The academic community is working on: • Phytochemicals from common foods which disrupt biofilm formation through properly understood mechanisms • Modelling and engineering the flow of liquids over a surface at a microscopic scale to design out bacterial adhesion • Switching the wettability and adhesive properties of a surface by external changes (e.g. pH, light) to make the surface inhospitable for colonisation by bacteria

Future research results and collaborative projects should show interesting progress on these, and other topics.

Image by Tom Bailey for the NBIC Biofilm Prevention Workshop