Who put the film in biofilm? The migration of a term from wastewater engineering to medicine and beyond
Reference: npj Biofilms and Microbiomes (2021) 7: 10

Sessile microorganisms were described as early as the seventeenth century. However, the term biofilm arose only in the 1960s in wastewater treatment research and was adopted later in marine fouling and in medical and dental microbiology. The sessile mode of microbial life was gradually recognized to be predominant on Earth, and the term biofilm became established for the growth of microorganisms in aggregates, frequently associated with interfaces, although many, if not the majority, of them not being continuous "films" in the strict sense. In this sessile form of life, microorganisms live in close proximity in a matrix of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). They share emerging properties, clearly distinct from solitary free floating planktonic microbial cells. Common characteristics include the formation of synergistic microconsortia, using the EPS matrix as an external digestion system, the formation of gradients and high biodiversity over microscopically small distances, resource capture and retention, facilitated gene exchange as well as intercellular communication, and enhanced tolerance to antimicrobials. Thus, biofilms belong to the class of collective systems in biology, like forests, beehives, or coral reefs, although the term film addresses only one form of the various manifestations of microbial aggregates. The uncertainty of this term is discussed, and it is acknowledged that it will not likely be replaced soon, but it is recommended to understand these communities in the broader sense of microbial aggregates.

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Published By
Flemming H.-C., H.C., Baveye P., Neu T.R., Stoodley P., Szewzyk U., Wuertz S.