Study of the effect of surface modifications on biofilm structure and community organisation


Develop a suitable biofilm model and characterise changes in biofilm formation (elucidating gene expression, adhesion, cohesion and compositional) in response to surface modifications


Selected ESR: Xabier Villanueva

Supervisor Name: Hans Steenackers

Industrial Supervisors: Gareth Davies, Kevin Wright

Recruiting Organisation: Katholique Universiteit Leuven, Leuven, Belgium



The aim of my research is to understand social interactions between bacteria in the context of biofilms. Biofilms are communities of bacteria encased in a protective matrix of extracellular polymeric surfaces (EPS), which makes them more resistant to antimicrobials and more difficult to remove from surfaces. In these biofilms, bacteria interact between themselves thought the production of public goods, which are soluble compounds that give a benefit to the bacterial community and are costly to produce. Some examples of public goods are EPS production, soluble enzymes or toxins. It is also known that public goods can mediate competition between species in a biofilm, in which case the response of bacteria to competition leads to increased tolerance to antimicrobials and potentially thicker biofilms.

These public goods are interesting targets for novel antimicrobials, because it is predicted that inhibition of public goods is less prone to generate resistance than classical antibiotic targets. In this way, understanding how bacteria socialize through public goods could lead us to novel strategies to eliminate biofilms from surfaces.