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Project overview

The University of Southampton will receive the award on behalf of the lead institutions of the NBIC consortium (University of Southampton, University of Edinburgh, University of Liverpool and University of Nottingham). Executive Team: Prof Jeremy Webb (Southampton), Prof Miguel Cámara (Nottingham), Prof Rasmita Raval (Liverpool), Prof Cait MacPhee (Edinburgh) and Dr Jo Slater-Jefferies (Southampton).

Microbial biofilms and communities represent, collectively, the largest biomass on the planet, with an estimated 96% of microbes on Earth found in biofilms rather than in a free-swimming form. Biofilms play major roles in the biology of environments, both natural and engineered, and in maintaining public health. They are one of the biggest causes of hospital-acquired infections, where the formation of difficult-to-eradicate biofilms on urinary and venous catheters or on implants can cause chronic disease.

In addition to their well-recognised role in infection and disease, they can underpin or disrupt a wide range of industrial sectors: from food and drink to oil and gas, and from the marine industries to the built environment. According to a recent market study, the annual economic significance and impact of biofilms has been estimated at ~$3,900 billion globally (approximately £45 billion in the UK).

The National Biofilms Innovation Centre (NBIC) is a pan-UK Innovation and Knowledge Centre established to connect the expertise of the UK's academic community with end users in industry and the third sector. NBIC facilitates knowledge transfer to ensure prompt delivery of new solutions to biofilm problems, to benefit end users and consumers alike. By bringing together the UK's strength in biofilm research, and combining it with the expertise of industrialists, NBIC aims to deliver breakthrough technologies that will have an impact on day-to-day lives.

NBIC provides a focus for industry partners to access biofilm research across the UK, simplifying knowledge transfer and catalysing collaboration. Working with industry, NBIC produce sector roadmaps, identifying the unmet needs of the sectors, and the key scientific, commercial, technical and regulatory barriers to meet them. The roadmaps provide a key context for the evolution of the NBIC science strategy. NBIC will work with industry, regulators, funders and policymakers, and engage the public in a two-way dialogue to refine the research and industrial strategy agenda, shape public funding initiatives and determine strategy for industrial pre- and post-competitive research.

NBIC leverages existing investments in research, facilities and people to address near and long term industrial and societal challenges and to establish a pathway for the accelerated adoption of new biofilm innovations and technologies, whilst significantly promoting the expansion of a highly trained researcher workforce in this field.

We are developing the next generation of leaders in biofilms with bespoke scientific, entrepreneurial and leadership training, and we undertake International exchanges of students and staff with International biofilm centres.

We draw on the considerable outreach and engagement experience of the NBIC partners to share and develop tailored events and activities suitable for primary and secondary schools, CPD for teachers, science festivals, youth groups and community-based organisations throughout the UK.

In research we will address key fundamental and technical biofilm challenges that have been identified through our engagement activities across our Prevent, Detect, Manage and Engineer themes and that will allow us to deliver global impact across challenges including climate change, food and water safety and security, and healthcare.

NBIC’s four interventional themes:

PREVENT: Prevention of early stage microbial adhesion and colonisation events at surfaces. Advanced techniques to create next-generation biofilm prevention strategies.

DETECT: Accurate, quantitative biofilm detection and metrology across multiple scales through innovative sensing, tracking and diagnostic technologies. Identify and exploit new and known biofilm-specific biomarkers.

MANAGE: To kill, remove or control established biofilms by understanding and exploiting their life cycle dynamics and development across a range of environments and levels of complexity.

ENGINEER: Harness the benefits of complex microbial consortia from knowledge of their composition, function, ecology and evolution. Exploit biofilm understanding at the interface with engineering and process applications.

By addressing the scientific challenges and strategy outlined above, NBIC helps companies to create value by benefiting from biofilms or by addressing the challenges that they face that are caused by biofilms.

NBIC pushes forward biofilms research


Lead researcher

Professor Jeremy Webb

Professor of Microbiology

Research interests

  • Microbial biofilms and their control
  • Adaptive biology and evolution of microorganisms
  • Biofilm-associated infection
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Other researchers

Professor Timothy Leighton FRS FREng FMedSci ScD

Professor of Ultrasonics
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Professor Guy Poppy CB FMedSci

Professor In Biological Sciences
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Professor Saul Faust MBBS, FRCPCH, PhD, FHEA, OBE

Professor Paediatric Immunology & Infect
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Professor Charles Keevil

Professor In Environmental Health Care
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Dr Callum Highmore

Research Fellow
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Dr Joe Parker

Senior Research Fellow
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Professor Jo Slater-Jefferies PhD, MBA, CMgr, MCMI

CEO-National Biofilms Innovation Centre
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Dr Ivo Tews

Associate Professor

Research interests

  • Natural products biosynthesis: a complex cascade of catalytic steps in vitamin B6 biosynthesis is characterised by structures or reaction intermediates in the large PLP syntase complexEdit
  • Bacterial biofilms: understanding of RedOx regulated phosphodiesterase activity in dispersal of biofilms to address chronic infections
  • Cancer immunology: together with Cancer Immunology at Southampton we use a structure based apporach in developing novel cancer therapie
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Dr Paulina Rakowska

Biofilms Standards and Reg Prog Mngr
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Professor Peter Smith BSc, PhD, MA, FRSB

Professor of Life Sciences
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Collaborating research institutes, centres and groups