Do you ever think about how people don’t seem to be as connected as they used to be? It’s true—social atomization has faded our sense of community. On the other hand, much to our chagrin, bacteria’s sense of community has never wavered. These sometimes helpful, often hindering single-celled organisms really know how to form bonds. Some species emit a mix of proteins that allows them to connect to one another, fasten themselves to a surface, and form a matrix where they’re stronger together. That’s taking networking to another level.
We call this mass biofilm, and it can occur in numerous locations, where its strength in numbers poses much more of a problem than individual, free-floating bacteria. So where does biofilm form in the body, anyway? Let’s take a closer look.
On the Teeth
You should be familiar with dental biofilm and the fight against it: it’s called brushing your teeth. The pesky plaque that develops on your teeth after you eat is an example of biofilm, where bacteria feast upon the same carbohydrates you enjoyed and adhere themselves to your teeth to keep the smorgasbord going. The proteins in the biofilm matrix mildly inoculate the bacteria themselves from immune system reactions, meaning it always takes a little extra effort on your part to dislodge them.
On Medical Devices
Just as moss grows on rocks, a surface need not be organic for bacteria to set up a biofilm colony. Medical devices implanted within the body such as artificial joints are susceptible to letting biofilm run rampant. The tubing of urinary catheters is a prime spot for biofilm to grow. While they can’t do much damage to the artificial surface itself, the colonies can expand further and pose problems, such as when biofilm in catheter tubing works its way back into the body, triggering a urinary tract infection.
On Open Wounds
If you’ve incurred some cuts and scrapes and noticed that they’re not healing as readily as they should be, it could be that a colony of biofilm has set up shop along your wound. Open wounds are one of the most common places where biofilm forms in the body. If your healing wound has a slimy sheen to it, this could be bacteria taking hold, and it could pose real problems. As the body tries to fight the antibody-resistant biofilm, it triggers inflammation and slows healing while not immediately vanquishing the bacteria. Sporadically cleansing and debriding the wound may sting a little, but it’s a necessary step against a long-lasting infection.