Biofilms- more than nasty tooth deposit

For the last Monday seminar in November, CRC1279 had the pleasure to welcome Prof. Knut Drescher from the Max-Planck-Institute (MPI) in Marburg. Prof. Barbara Spellerberg invited the physicist who drifted into the exciting dynamics of bacterial biofilms.

The Research Group "Bacterial Biofilms" at the MPI for Terrestrial Microbiology, headed by Prof. Knut Drescher combines microscopy, molecular biology techniques and mathematical modeling to show how bacteria form these complex multicellular communities. In his talk, Drescher initially clarified that biofilms are not always detrimental but can actually have beneficial effects, e.g. in waste water cleaning and for the growth of plants. Being present at an amount of 1031 on earth, phages are even 10-times more abundant than their bacterial hosts. To explore the interactions between biofilms and phages, Drescher uses fluorescent reporter phages. He found that biofilms are protected from phage infection by amyloid fibrils present on the surface of bacteria. By binding and trapping phages, the fibrils prevent phage diffusion into a biofilm. Moreover, Drescher explores the cell-cell interactions within biofilms by using simulations based on interaction potentials. While the physical equation looked rather bulky, the 3D imaging of such a biofilm was really impressive. By using a newly established technique termed Adaptive Microscopy, Drescher can construct diagrams of swarming and track individual bacteria in both space and time. Amazed by this vivid presentation, the audience lively discussed and many interested questions came up. In the subsequent discussion with PhD students and postdocs, Drescher addressed applications of the lessons learned from phage-biofilm interactions. Authentic and full of reseach spirit, he encouraged the young people to go their own way. “Max-Planck is crazy. You have all opportunities you can think of.”