School of Biological Sciences

Biofilms

Biofilms at the University of Portsmouth

The University of Portsmouth’s broad approach to Biofilms research includes understanding the genetic, molecular and cellular basis of biofilms through to the discovery and development of novel technologies and methods for biofilm control, and across the medical and environmental sectors.

With its foundations in the Institute of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, we are a UK partner University and Research Centre for the National Biofilms Innovation Centre, established in November 2017 and supported by BBSRC, Innovate UK and the Hartree Centre. Our Biofilms research encompasses collaborations with multiple academic, non-academic and commercial partners.

Novel Technologies

Using innovative, new microfluidics technologies designed and developed at the University of Portsmouth, we can simulate flow regimes and shear stresses that are relevant to real-life scenarios, such as the hydrodynamics of medical stents through to the hulls of ships. Using a diverse range of surfaces, including hydrophilic, hydrophobic, plastic polymers and metallic surfaces, we can study the fundamental surface-related phenomena that underpin Biofilm formation.

Using state of the art techniques, including epifluorence microscopy, confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), atomic force microscopy (AFM), contact angle measurements, nanoindeters, 3D proliferometry, and X-ray microtomography, we investigate the processes involved in initial bacterial attachment to biofilm formation.

Fluorescence microscopic image of a marine Biofilm

Fluorescence microscopic image of a marine Biofilm attached on a glass surface where green colour represents the live bacteria and red the dead. Scale bar: 100 μm (Courtesy of Dr Maria Salta)

Biofilm composition and community

Studying biofilm growth across a range of surfaces, both natural and man-made, we use Next Generation Sequencing to understand biofilm formation in the aquatic environment. We are also investigating the impact of proposed changes in climate on biofilm growth and researching the impact this has on the marine environment and habitat of marine life, such as corals, sponges, algae. Such marine life is pivotal to sustaining the biodiversity of the marine environment.

biofilm thickness

Representative intensity map reflecting biofilm thickness (scale in lm) grown in the microfluidic device. Each image represents a flow chamber for each shear stress, i.e., (a) 0.03 Pa, (b) 0.60 Pa, (c) 2.15 Pa, and (c) 4.30 Pa. Salta et al., 2013 Biomicrofluidics 7, 064118 

Biofilm control

Our research spans across medical and environmental biology disciplines, with novel approaches being developed and trialled in order to provide innovative solutions to control the growth of Biofilms.

Our focus on Biofouling utilises the unique capabilities of the University’s Institute of Marine Sciences. Biofouling is a global problem across the marine sector, impacting shipping efficiency, aquaculture, offshore energy systems, oil platforms, and oceanographic sensors. Our research, conducted in collaboration with academic and commercial partners worldwide, can characterise these biofouling communities so we can understand how best we can control them. We are developing and trialling novel antifouling technologies, including biomimetic approaches.

Facilities

Raft: Our marine research raft is permanently anchored in the main channel of the Langstone harbour (Portsmouth), exposed to warm, highly biodiverse water rich in planktonic marine life. This environment is perfect for exposure testing and biofilm characterisation on different tested substrata and materials. Sensors monitor parameters such as temperature, salinity and chlorophyll-a on a daily basis.

Marinas in the South: We have access to marinas located in several coastal areas, perfectly suited for field-based testing

Biofilm Research Facilities: Culturing and CAT-2 facilities with access to flow cytometry, microplates readers, epifluorescence microscopes, CLSMs, SEM and environmental SEM, AFM, FTIR, RAMAN, HPLC, GC.

New marine biofilm-forming-diatom growth facilities (light/dark and temperature control).

Maria Salta on raft

Dr Maria Salta exposing inert antifouling coatings at the Raft, Institute of Marine Sciences.

Inert antifouling coatings

Inert antifouling coatings exposed at the Raft, Institute of Marine Sciences.