The study of Biofilms is another new area with great potential. Until recently, researchers grew microbes in colonies in dishes, and approached them as “single” entities, but new research has shown that they often form colonies, such as in the lungs or sinuses, or on medical instruments.
These colonies are in fact like little fortresses or cities – they have walls made of the bodies of dead microbes, and they can form towers and water channels. In this way they can survive longer than we thought previously, as they are hidden from our immune system, and they have efficient DNA transfer amongst themselves, so that immunity spreads rapidly. Strangely, microbes in biofilms are often not a big problem for us, as some helpful gut bacteria like to live this way, but, it’s when the biofilm breaks up and the cells are spread around our body that we get ill. The scientists are working on answers, but at least we now know that many microbes are communities rather than individuals, though we don’t know much about them – how do they organise themselves ?