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Biofilms

Microbial biofilm research is now a feature of many scientific disciplines across the University including biological sciences, medicine, chemistry, computational modelling, engineering and ocean science. The theme has impact across diverse fields of application, from medicine  to industry to the environment.

The Biofilm and Microbial Communities Research Group comprises academics from across disciplines and is unique in its ability to consider biofilms in an integrated way across these various research areas.  This is a relatively new field and the University claims the largest grouping of biofilm academics in the UK.

Who are the Biofilms and Microbial Communities Research Group?
The research group formed "organically" through mutual connections and opportunities to meet through discussing specific projects. They bring together expertise spanning three pillars connected by biofilm biology:

1. Molecular Mechanisms and Evolution: Jeremy Webb (Biological Sciences) conducts fundamental research in biofilm development including evolution, genetics and molecular ecology, and how biofilms may be controlled in the environment and in disease. Richard Watson (Electronics and Computer Science) uses computational modelling to simulate microbial communities and provide a faster way of understanding evolving microbial communities and how relationships within communities evolve over time. Lex Kraaijeveld (Biological Sciences) has a general interest in ecological and evolutionary processes and especially how these interact. Biofilms are particularly interesting from this viewpoint as these processes happen both at the level of the individual cell and at the level of the community. This makes biofilms an interesting model system for the origin of multicellularity and cooperation.

2. Environmental, Engineering and Health Impacts: Bill Keevil (Biological Sciences) works on biofilms in the environment, the built environment and in clinical practice, including their impact on the survival of pathogens such as E. coli O157, Legionella pneumophila, MRSA and Clostridium difficile. Paul Stoodley (Engineering Sciences) focuses on how biofilm communities interact, the resulting emergent behaviour and removal and prevention strategies. This work can be exploited in the medical arena (for example to control biofilms on biomaterials or in the application of catheters) and also has potential for industrial use and in engineering applications such as fouling of ship hulls.

3. Translational Clinical Applications: Saul Faust (Medicine) provides a link between basic biofilm research and clinical problems caused by biofilm infections. He has a research programme in paediatric infectious diseases and is Director of the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility (WTCRF) at Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust (SUHT). With the help of the WTCRF and the National Institute for Health Research Southampton Respiratory Biomedical Research Unit (BRU) (both University - SUHT partnerships), the team are working to produce new therapies that will overcome antibiotic tolerance caused by biofilms in chronic respiratory infection. Luanne Hall-Stoodley (Medicine/WTCRF) is a translational scientist whose research investigates how biofilms contribute to chronic infections such as chronic otitis media, chronic respiratory infections and device-related infections and additionally, how to better diagnose and treat biofilm-associated infections. Stuart Clarke (Medicine & Health Protection Agency) provides an essential link between epidemiology and microbial communities; his research uses post-genomic technologies to explore the relationships at the genomic level with antibiotic resistance, virulence potential and disease potential in microorganisms that cause respiratory disease.

What makes the Research Group unique?
Some of the most novel and distinctive aspects of the research group are:

~ The ability to link biofilm expertise with translational clinical expertise.  This would not have been possible without the interdisciplinary collaboration of fundamental biologists and clinicians.

~ Microbial community engineering.  The group has the capability to computationally model and control microbial communities and make predictions about their behaviour, a result of new collaborations between science and engineering.

~ Biofilm ecology in vaccine strategy.  Vaccines in use today are usually based on the properties of single cell microorganisms; the Biofilms and Microbial Communities Research Group are taking a new approach which targets the antigenic properties associated uniquely with biofilm aggregations.  This work is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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