The UK’s world-class expertise in the research of biofilms has been recognised through the launch of a new National Biofilms Innovation Centre (NBIC).
Biofilms form when the cells of microorganisms stick together and produce a thin layer across a surface. Plaque on teeth is a good example, which may lead to complications including gum disease, but they can form on any surface, where they may lead to anti-microbial resistance and cause infections. In industry too they may provide a settling ground for further biofouling, especially underwater where they can lead to serious malfunctions of equipment and drag on ships incurring both economic and environmental costs. Whether medically or industrially, biofilms present a big challenge and have become the focus of increasing research efforts to understand how, when and where they form.
Supported by a commitment of £26 million over the next 5 years, including £12.5M funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Centre (BBSRC) and Innovate UK, with additional support from universities and industry, NBIC will bring the best of UK biofilm research together with UK companies from across the industrial sectors to accelerate the adoption of new technologies into live products and services.
NBIC is a multi-site Innovation and Knowledge Centre, led by the University of Southampton together with a core partnership of the Universities of Edinburgh, Liverpool and Nottingham. A further 11 universities, three research centres – Diamond Synchrotron, the Hartree Centre and the Quadram Institute – and three major global academic partners – The Nanyang Technologial University (Singapore), the Montana State University (USA) and the University of Copenhagen (Denmark). NBIC will also collaborate with a network of over 50 companies from different sectors ranging from SMEs to large companies to exploit the UK’s global leadership in biofilms. NBIC’s inclusive model means that other universities and companies conducting biofilm research can participate and benefit from partnership with the NBIC consortium.
“This new National Biofilms Innovation Centre is poised to create a fusion of world-class interdisciplinary research and industry partnerships to deliver breakthrough science and technologies to control and exploit biofilms,” said Jeremy Webb, Principal Investigator and Co-Director for NBIC. “The UK is home to some of the most advanced research and commercial opportunities for the exploitation of biofilms so combining our talents gives us the best opportunity to establish a national, and international, agenda to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges and work seamlessly across academic and industry to stimulate growth in this vital area.”
Dr Thomas Vance is leading the research contribution from the PML Applications, Centre for Marine Biofouling and Corrosion: “Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, biofilm fouling on vessel hulls can negatively impact the efficiency of the vessel. One of the key issues to understand is how biofilms vary spatially on different areas of a vessel, and how these variations change with time. By understanding these patterns, we should be able to use the most effective biofilm control approaches for different areas.
Our particular expertise will also be used to test prototype marine biofilm control technologies being developed by other partners in the consortium. This will include laboratory-based molecular and single-cell genomic techniques as well as in-situ testing in a range of marine settings with high quality environmental characterisation, using buoys, commercial vessels, dynamic test rigs and our own research vessel".
Microbial biofilm research is now a feature of many scientific disciplines including biological sciences, medicine, chemistry, physics, computational modelling, engineering and ocean science. Biofilms are central to some of the most urgent global challenges across diverse fields of application, from medicine to industry to the environment and exert considerable economic and social impact:
They are a leading cause of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), forecast to cost $100T in world GDP and 10M deaths by 2050;
They are the major cause of chronic infections, costing the NHS £2bn per annum;
Contamination, energy losses and damage by biofilms impact on the £70B UK foods industry, the $2.8T consumer products sector, and $117B global coatings industry.
Biofilm management is essential to deliver clean and globally sustainable drinking water and food security.
The Biofilms website - http://biofilms.org.uk/
Core-lead Universities: Co-ordinating contact:
University Southampton Prof Jeremy Webb, Principal Investigator, Co-Director
University of Edinburgh Prof. Cait McPhee, Co-Director
University of Liverpool Prof Rasmita Raval, Co-Director
University of Nottingham Prof Miguel Cámara, Co-Director
NBIC partners to date:
University of Birmingham Dr Jan Kreft
University of Cambridge Dr Martin Welch, Dr Andrew Grant
Diamond Light Source Dr Martin Walsh
University of Dundee Prof. Nicola Stanley-Wall
Hartree Centre Alison Kennedy
Imperial College London Prof Alain Filloux
University of Leeds Prof Chris Carr
University of Manchester Prof. Andrew McBain
PML Applications Dr Thomas Vance
University of Portsmouth Dr Maria Salta
Quadram Institute Prof Ian Charles
Queen's University Belfast Prof Brendan Gilmore
Swansea University Prof Tom Humphrey, Dr Tom Wilkinson
University of West England Prof. Darren Reynolds