Lurking inside pipes and on the surfaces of indwelling medical devices, slimy layers of bacteria, called biofilms, cause problems ranging from largescale product contamination to potentially fatal chronic infections. Biofilms are notoriously difficult to eliminate — not surprising given that one of their main functions is to protect encased bacteria from threats such as predation, antibiotics, and chemical cleaning agents.
Bleach, harsh oxidizing cleaning products, and petrochemical-derived detergents called surfactants combined with scrubbing are the most effective methods of removing biofilms. However, bleach and harsh chemicals are obviously unsuitable for use in biological settings, and while surfactants are used in products such as hand soap and cosmetics, many are toxic to the environment and can damage the surfaces that they are used on.
But in a study published this month in peer-reviewed journal Langmuir, researchers from the University of Tsukuba have found a new way of tackling biofilms, using cleaning agents derived from microbes themselves.