How do you explain the complexity of biofilms to those not familiar in the field?

Giving presentations and providing explanations are part of a researcher's life. But how exactly do you introduce biofilms to a layman? How do you make an undergraduate or a lawyer or a curious relative (not in the health sciences) understand them and the importance of a study of biofilms?

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Well, during one of my MSc yearly presentations, I used a 'city' to explain biofilms. In my imagination (in attempt to link to the imagination of others), a biofilm can be attributed to the complexity of a city. Once it is established, it only grows in all aspects possible and becomes more and more difficult to eradicate. It requires multiple systems to operate and ways to communicate. Transportation systems and roads are like the water and nutrient channels in a biofilm. Facebook and Twitter are like quorum sensing molecules in a biofilm. High rise buildings are like the towering structures of a matured biofilm and of course the migrating population might as well be like the cells 'flying off' the mature biofilm, freely dispersed to go and colonise new surfaces, establishing new populations. And stopping the 'operation' of one of these systems can indeed paralyse a biofilm city.

So, how else can a biofilm be represented in daily conversations? I would like to hear from anyone willing to share some ideas. Thanks.

Ramona Khanum

PhD Student, International Medical University (IMU)


Go to the profile of Jen Thoroughgood
almost 7 years ago
An interesting post, thanks Ramona! Perhaps you could consider asking the same question of the community experts using the Q&A feature? Simply click the ASK A QUESTION button and enter your question. When you submit it, it will automatically be emailed to all the Experts as well as the Contributors from Nature Publishing Group.
Go to the profile of Ramona Khanum
almost 7 years ago
Hi Jen! Thanks for the suggestion. Will get on it soon.
Go to the profile of Scott A Rice
almost 7 years ago
Hi Romona, Indeed, such comparisons are good, especially for the general public who may not have the background or time to work out some of the complexities of biological systems. Both Hans-Curt Flemming and Roberto Kolter have written reviews using similar analogies, so those could give more inspiration. Perhaps the cities should be underwater, where the bacteria can swim to the biofilm city, which is slightly more accurate than flying through the sky to inhabit the city. I am not quite sure about the context you are using these, but it is also very good to relate to real world biofilms, e.g. The gunk that grows around the edge of a sink drain (at least in my university share house back in the day), or the slimes that make things slippery at the waters edge. People relate to those pretty well even though they are small.
Go to the profile of Ramona Khanum
almost 7 years ago
Hi Scott, Thanks for your comment. Yes, their reviews are very inspiring and layman oriented. I like your mention of the underwater cities which I believe would imply to biofilms in the lungs, catheter surfaces in the vein & urinary tract and wounds?. Indeed I have also used green slime on rocks by the sea as an example, as most of us in Malaysia have visited a rocky beach at some point in life. I was working on biofilms on central venous catheters, making it the context at that time, so I wanted a simple and attention-drawing introduction for the crowd than simply jumping to strict Science. Elisabeth M. Bik answered this question, let me quote - "...that biofilms offer protection to microbes, similar to the way that city dwellers are protected against weather. The deeper the microbes are within the biofilm, the more protected against e.g. antibiotics", which I also think is a good addition to my future presentation notes. Nevertheless, I really like the 'city' analogy, so I have yours and her comment to work in a presentation or conversation the next time. Thanks!