The Biofilm Concept​

Editorial in the Journal of Bacteriology

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George O'Toole from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth wrote a short but interesting Editorial in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of Bacteriology. Although the term "biofilm" was not used until the 1970's, he reminds us of two scientific papers published in the 1930's, in the Journal of Bacteriology. Although O'Toole notes that both of these papers do not use the term "biofilm", I noted that both use the term "film". The descriptions of thick layers of bacteria growing on glass surfaces dipped in ponds, lakes, or seawater are clearly describing biofilms.

The first paper was written in 1933 by Arthur Henrici, who noticed that thick bacterial communities were growing on glass slides that he dipped in ponds and lakes. It contains pictures of differently shaped bacteria and colonies "within a mucoid capsule". Henrici writes: "The organisms develop upon the slide in a fairly uniform film."

The second paper came out in 1935, and was written by Claude Zobell and Esther Allen who found similar results for glass slides submerged in seawater. It contains the sentence "Our observations show quite conclusively that bacteria and, to a lesser extent, other microorganisms are the primary filmformers on submerged glass slides, and that such films favor the subsequent attachment of the larger and more inimical fouling organisms".

I highly recommend reading O'Toole's editorial. It's short, but provides an important reminder about the great microbiology done in the past. It also provides links to the scanned PDFs of both 1930's papers. As O'Toole notes: "Many years later we are still guided by the keen observations set forth in JB in the 1930s".


Classic Spotlight: Before They Were Biofilms (Open Access)
George A. O'Toole - Journal of Bacteriology, January 2016

Elisabeth M. Bik

Science Editor, uBiome

After receiving my PhD at Utrecht University in The Netherlands, I worked at the Dutch National Institute for Health and the St. Antonius Hospital in Nieuwegein. From 2001-2016 I worked in the laboratory of David Relman at Stanford University, where I have worked on the characterization of human oral, gastric, and intestinal microbiotas, and that of marine mammals. In 2016 I joined uBiome where we allow citizen scientists to sequence their microbiome. I also run Microbiome Digest,, an almost daily compilation of scientific papers in the rapidly growing microbiome field, tweet on Twitter as @MicrobiomDigest, and scan published papers for image manipulation.


Go to the profile of Ben Libberton
over 6 years ago
Thanks for sharing this. It also makes me think about the future. What new terms are we not using yet that are going to important in the future of research?