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The University of Southampton

BIOL6047 Biofilms and Microbial Communities

Module Overview

BIOL6047 ‘Biofilms and Microbial Communities’ aims to provide an understanding of bacterial biofilms and the environmental, industrial and health care problems related to complex microbial consortia of societal importance. Students will learn to describe and explain the basis for biofilm development in nature and in chronic infections, as well as to understand and interpret the outputs of modern techniques in microbial biofilm research. Biofilms and Microbial Communities’ follows our foundation microbiology courses BIOL2038 and BIOL2044 (either of which will be a prerequisite for the 3rd year module), and directly addresses Southampton’s cross-faculty strengths in biofilm research, and as lead for the National Biofilms Innovation Centre. As such lectures on this module will be contributed by academic members of staff from working on interdisciplinary projects with Health Sciences, Medicine, Engineering, and Ocean and Earth Sciences.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Describe in detail concepts in biofilm research including: a) The distinction, in terms of physiology and behaviour, between free-living bacteria and biofilm bacteria in environmental and medical settings, b) The biofilm life-cycle, including attachment, development, differentiation, and dispersal that is now established for a number of core model organisms in biofilm research c) The biofilm extracellular matrix, its composition and importance for bacterial survival, d) Evolutionary processes within biofilms, such as cooperation and cheating, and their implications for microbial multicellularity; e) Methods for studying microbial biofilms in the natural environment and disease f) Strategies for the control of biofilms in industrial, environmental or public health benefits
  • Critically evaluate scientific data through use of published literature,
  • Demonstrate effective written scientific communication skills.


The syllabus will concentrate on the following areas: • Biofilm Development (attachment, differentiation and dispersal) • Biofilm Physiology, Viability and Antibiotic Resistance • Microbial Ecology Techniques • Environmental Biofilms • Clinical Biofilms • Biofilms in Industry/Engineering (Biofilm Engineering and Biofilms in Drinking Water) • Evolutionary/Population Processes in Biofilms

Special Features

1) Cross-faculty teaching. This module is very closely aligned with Southampton’s cross-faculty research strengths in the area of ‘Biofilms and Microbial Communities’ that is currently well supported by the IfLS strategic research group. As such students taking this module will gain exposure to multidisciplinary aspects of biofilm research, for example covering environmental, engineering and medical contexts. Moreover, in addition to the benefits for the students, this module will help to develop mechanisms that facilitate and link teaching activities between the Academic Centres and Faculties at Southampton. 1) Research-Led. All of the academic staff lecturing within this module have contributed to recent understanding of biofilm biology through their research activity and will be delivering lecture content on aspects of their research. Therefore in addition to teaching the basic understanding of the biology of biofilms, students participating in this module will benefit from exposure to leading-edge concepts in biofilm research. 2) Transferable skills. The module will also provide students with a number of transferable skills useful in the academic or industrial workplace; in particular the critical analysis of scientific literature which will form a component of their assessment.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The contact teaching component of this module will be delivered by lecturing (20 lectures). A series of learning outcomes have been established and teaching and non-contact learning are closely aligned with these criteria. A number of the learning outcomes are focused on transferrable skills, including a critical review where students will critique a scientific research article.

Independent Study126
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Hall-Stoodley L, Costerton JW, Stoodley P (2004). Bacterial biofilms: from the natural environment to infectious diseases. Nat Rev Microbiol. ,2 , pp. 95-108.

Webb JS, Givskov M, Kjelleberg S. (2003). Bacterial biofilms: prokaryotic adventures in multicellularity. Curr Opin Microbiol. ,6 , pp. 578-85.


Assessment Strategy

The mark for the module will be allocated as follows: Summative final examination 75%. This will be an unseen written examination, comprising one 2-hour paper requiring two questions to be answered from a choice of four. Formative continuous assessment 25%, comprising 2 assignments (12.5% each), each based on written critical evaluation (~1500 – 2000 words) of an agreed example of the current research literature. The questions will test understanding of the research, critical assessment of flaws and weaknesses as well as independent evaluation and interpretation of the data. The overall pass mark is 40%. Re-assessment Method The mark for the module will be allocated as follows: Summative final examination 75%. This will be an unseen written examination, comprising one 2-hour paper requiring three questions to be answered from a choice of five. Formative continuous assessment: marks carried forward The overall pass mark is 40%.


MethodPercentage contribution
Written assignment  (2000 words) 12.5%
Written assignment  (2000 words) 12.5%
Written exam  (2 hours) 75%


MethodPercentage contribution
Written assignment 25%
Written exam  (2 hours) 75%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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